Barcelona 1 Villarreal 0: Eto'o fires home to give Barça spoils

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The Independent Online

Villarreal warmed up for Wednesday's Champions' League semi-final first leg with Arsenal by fielding a virtual reserve team against their fellow semi-finalists Barcelona last night.

Without the Catalans' strength in depth, the Yellow Submarines could have faced a heavy defeat, yet a single Samuel Eto'o goal was the difference between the sides, with Barça looking certain to retain the title after moving 14 points clear at the top of the table with five games remaining.

Villarreal stars like Juan Roman Riquelme, Juan Pablo Sorin, Alessio Tacchinardi and Diego Forlan were rested, while the regular goalkeeper Sebastian Viera, suspended for the visit to Arsenal, was replaced by Mario Barbosa. Marcos Senna, Javi Venta and the captain Quique Alvarez, all of whom are expected to start at Highbury, began on the bench.

Barça were without Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Thiago Motta, although the latter pair should start in Milan on Tuesday, with Messi returning to Argentina to complete treatment on a muscle injury.

Given Barça's formidable home form and their understrength opponents, it was no surprise that the Catalans took the lead, Eto'o netting his 24th league goal of the campaign when he turned a befuddled Pena before finding space between Barbosa and his near post in the 10th minute. The goal eased the coach Frank Rijkaard's concern after he witnessed Henrik Larsson limp off two minutes earlier clutching his thigh.

European distractions ensured a flat game. Villarreal's first 11 have been strong enough to propel them to Europe's final four, yet it has affected their league form and Manuel Pellegrini's team lie in eighth position, two points from a Uefa Cup berth.

Arzo did come close for the visitors, his overhead kick superbly saved by Victor Valdes in the 32nd minute, but Barça created the bulk of chances.

Deco drilled the ball just wide of the post on 47 minutes after clever skill in the area and a Maxi shot came close just after the hour, but Barcelona could not add to Eto'o's goal.

Barcelona: (4-3-3): Valdes; Van Bronkhorst, Puyol, Edmilson, Oleguer; Van Bommel (Belletti 84), Deco, Iniesta; Larsson (Esquerro 8 - Maxi 34), Giuly, Eto'o. Substitutes not used: Jorquera (gk), Marquez, Sylvinho, Gabri.

Villarreal: (4-4-2): Barbosa; Gonzalo (Q Alvarez 18), Arruabarrena, Josemi, Pena (off 90); Josico, Roger (Guayre 60), C Arzo, Cazoria (Hector Font 69); Jose Mari, Guille Franco. Substitutes not used: Lopez Vallejo (gk), Guayre, Javi Venta, Senna, Calleja, Q Alvarez.

Referee: Cesar Muniz Fernandez.

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