Barcelona beats Atletico Madrid 3-0, sets record

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Barcelona, Feb 6 (AP) Barcelona earned a record 16thstraight win in the Spanish league by beating Atletico Madrid3-0 with a Lionel Messi hat trick.

The historic win yesterday provisionally lifted Barcelona10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table aheadof its fierce rival''s match against Real Sociedad today.

Messi decided the contest with two goals before thehalf-hour mark and added a third in the second half.

Barcelona''s streak surpassed the 15 wins by Alfredo DiStefano''s Real Madrid 50 years ago.

"It is an honor for this team to have surpassed a recordthat had stood for so long," Messi said.

Pep Guardiola''s team has outscored its opponents 60-6during the winning run that is the 10th longest in Europeanhistory.

Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores left strikerDiego Forlan out of the starting 11 and reinforced hismidfield with former Barcelona youth academy product FranMerida. But the move did not pay off, as Barcelona controlledthe ball from the opening whistle.

Atletico resisted until Messi broke through for thetwo-time defending champions in the 17th.

Messi cut back from the right flank across the edge ofthe area, leaving behind three defenders before firing aleft-footer into the right corner of David De Gea''s goal.

Messi''s second goal was product of a great team buildup.

After Antonio Lopez touched it but could not clear, PedroRodriguez linked up with David Villa, who slipped the ballbetween two defenders for Messi to punch in.

"We would not be who we are without Messi on our team,"said Guardiola. "To be a great team you need to have astandout player. We have won 16 games because we have Messi."

With Forlan coming on after the restart, Atletico had agood beginning to the second half and Barcelona center backGerard Pique saved a strike by Filipe Luis on the goal line inthe 53rd.

De Gea swatted a Messi header over the crossbar in the73rd, but six minutes later Messi pounced to tap in a ballthat De Gea blocked but could not hold.

Messi has 40 goals in 33 games in all competitions andhis 24 league goals put him two ahead of Real Madrid''sCristiano Ronaldo for Spain''s leading scorer. With 167 goalsfor Barcelona in all competitions, Messi moved past JosepEscola (164) into sole possession of fourth place on the clubcareer scoring list, trailing Cesar Rodriguez (235), LaszloKubala (196) and Josep Samitier (178).

"Messi is the best player I have ever seen," said SanchezFlores. "He is the Di Stefano of the 21st century." (More) APSHN

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