by Phil Seery
November 4, 2007
MADRID (AFP) – A rejuvenated Ronaldinho scored two trademark free-kicks as Barcelona moved to within one point of tabletoppers Real Madrid courtesy of a 3-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.
Brazilian international Ronaldinho, criticised for his poor form and excessive partying this season, curled in two brilliant free-kicks (52min, 90) to cap a fine display.
Real had tasted a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla on Saturday and Barcelona punished that slip with French international Thierry Henry bagging his fifth goal of the season before Ronaldinho took the headlines.
Barcelona climb to second, level on points with Villarreal, who produced the comeback of the season to defeat Atletico Madrid in a 4-3 thriller on Sunday.
Atletico had led at 2-0 and 3-2 but were left cursing defensive errors as Turkish substitute Nihat scored twice, including an 89th minute winner, to leave Atletico empty-handed.
Atletico stay fifth, five points behind Real, but coach Javier Aguirre has a lot of defensive work to do with his team if they are to push for a Champions League spot this season.
Barcelona started with Ronaldinho, Henry and Lionel Messi in a three-pronged attack and Betis were chasing shadows early on.
Henry saw his 19th minute header well saved and minutes later the Frenchman watched on in agony as his fierce shot rebounded off the post.
A goal was on the cards and it duly arrived just after the half hour mark with Henry racing onto a slide rule pass from Andres Iniesta to poke the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Betis had not won at Camp Nou since 1998 and when Ronaldinho scored his first free-kick it was just a case of keeping the score down.
Betis stay stranded in the bottom three and their Argentine manager Hector Cuper, who guided Valencia to Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001, remains under pressure.
Barcelona’s next match is at home to Rangers on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Atletico had to do without Diego Forlan for the Villarreal clash with the Uruguayan missing out against his old club through injury.
Goals from Pablo Tebar and Portuguese winger Simao gave Atletico a two-goal lead after just 24 minutes but Giuseppe Rossi pulled one back six minutes later with a clever lob.
For Rossi it was a seventh goal in his debut season in Spain following his 6.7 million pounds move from Manchester United in the summer.
“I never thought we would lose because my team were strong from the very first minute,” said Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini.
“We knew Atletico had some defensive weaknesses and that we could exploit that.”
Argentine Fabricio Fuentes equalised for the visitors and Atletico captain Maxi Rodriguez missed a penalty.
Argentine starlet Aguero put Atletico ahead but there was a twist in the tale with Nihat equalising and then scoring an 89th minute winner.
“We have been conceding too many goals of late,” admitted Aguirre. “We play very offensive football but we have to restore some defensive order.
“The whole team needs to defend better but we are working on that.”
Aguero now leads the goalscoring charts with seven goals along with Rossi, Messi and Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano.
Elsewhere promoted Levante recorded a much-needed first win of the season with a 3-0 thrashing of Murcia although they still prop up the 20-strong table.
Italian striker Christian Rigano bagged a sensational first half hat-trick (1min, 16, 34) for Levante who had only collected one point from their previous ten matches.