Barcelona moved to within a point of Real Madrid at the top of Spain's La Liga with a convincing 3–0 victory over struggling Real Betis last night. The Catalans' goals came from Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho, two of Barça's under-fire stars netting with outstanding efforts. Ronaldinho twice celebrated with hand gestures to question his critics.
The small advance guard of the 15,000 Glasgow Rangers supporters expected for Wednesday's Champions League match here watched nervously as Frank Rijkaard's men produced one of their most accomplished performances of the season, limiting a limp Betis side to their own half for large parts of the game.
Henry's indifferent form has been criticised. He has been suffering from an Achilles injury, though Rijkaard said he would be "in good enough shape to be in the squad" for Wednesday. The Frenchman's determination was evident from the start as goalkeeper Ricardo tipped a 15th-minute header over the bar. He could then only watch as a vicious Henry shot hit the post from a tight angle six minutes later.
Henry's persistence was rewarded in the 32nd minute as he gave Barça the lead after coolly striking home from Andres Iniesta following a move that ran the length of the pitch.
The brilliant Lionel Messi tortured Betis with defender Marko Babic booked for a clumsy challenge on the prodigious Argentine who poses the greatest threat to Rangers.
Betis have narrowly avoided relegation in each of the last two seasons, but they never lost their attacking verve. Appointing the experienced Hector Cuper as Betis' fifth coach in as many seasons was seen as an attempt to make the Sevillians more defensive-minded. Prior to last night they had conceded just four goals away from home, but the Argentine has overseen just one victory in 11 matches and his side were booed off after a 3-0 home defeat to Osasuna last week.
Their misfortune was compounded last night when Ronaldinho converted a free-kick seven minutes after half time. Henry should have made it three with a header soon after, but missed.
An ineffectual Betis side wilted under the onslaught of Messi's magic. A mazy 65th-minute run which carried him past four opponents would have provided another goal of the season contender had his final effort not skewed wide of the post.
Henry was substituted to great applause with 11 minutes left for Bojan, a home-produced 17-year-old for whom greatness is expected. He will learn much from Ronaldinho, who struck Barça's third with another free-kick in the final minute.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Zambrota (Marquez, 75), Puyol, Thuram, Abidal; Xavi (Gudjohnsen 83), Iniesta, Toure; Henry, (Bojan 79), Messi, Ronaldinho.
Real Betis: (4-2-3-1) Ricardo; Ilic, Juanito, Lima, Babic; Somoza, Juande; Edu, M Gonzalez, Rivera; Pavone.Reuse content