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Messi scores 91st goal of year

Ap
Monday, December 24, 2012

BARCELONA, Spain - Lionel Messi polished off his record year with his 91st and final goal of 2012 in Barcelona's 3-1 win at Valladolid on Saturday

Messi scored in the 59th minute by dribbling between a defender's legs before making it 2-0 after Xavi Hernandez had opened the scoring two minutes before halftime, in a victory the team dedicated to ailing coach Tito Vilanova.

Players from both teams wore T-shirts before the game with messages of support for Vilanova, who had throat surgery to remove a second tumour in two years from a saliva gland on Thursday.

Barcelona was coached by assistant Jordi Roura, with Vilanova being released from hospital just moments before the game. He is expected to undergo around six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

"This win is for Tito," said Barcelona defender Dani Alves. "It's a surprise and joy that he is home now. We are here to help him any way he can. Football is secondary now, he is fighting for his life."

Barcelona remained perfect in nine away games and extended their record league start with a 16th win in 17 rounds.

Barcelona restored a nine-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid, and saw the gap over Real Madrid grow to 16 points after the slumping titleholders lost 3-2 to Malaga.

"We aren't celebrating anything yet," said Dani Alves. "We will do that when we reach the end of the season."

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho's decision to bench goalkeeper Iker Casillas backfired against Malaga as Real dropped further off the pace in the title race.

Also on Saturday, Mallorca won 2-1 at Real Betis, escaping the relegation zone and breaking a dire run of 11 league games without a victory.

Real Zaragoza beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0.





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