Fabregas in racism row as Barcelona draw blank

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The Independent Football

Cesc Fabregas has categorically denied making racist comments towards Fredi Kanouté in the incident which saw the former Tottenham and West Ham player sent off on Saturday. The usually restrained Mali international hit out at Fabregas and grabbed him around the head in a heated final few minutes at the Camp Nou during Barcelona's 0-0 draw with Seville.

"I would be surprised if he had acted without provocation," said Seville coach Marcelino immediately after the game and there were off-the-record suggestions from some Seville players that the abuse had been of a racist nature.

But using his Twitter account yesterday Fabregas said: "No one has ever accused me of being racist or bigoted in all my years of playing. There is a simple explanation for that. I have never behaved in that manner. I will not tolerate anyone accusing me of things that I am not. To cry racism is cowardly and an easy option to excuse your own poor behaviour. My conscience is completely clear. I've done nothing wrong."

Kanouté used the same platform to respond: "I am sorry for what happened. I did not set a good example. That said, there was provocation and an insult. It is not worth dwelling on. His behaviour was as bad, as was mine but the matter is closed."

It brought to an end a dramatic 24 hours in the Spanish title race that had begun with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a 15-minute hat-trick, and ended with Leo Messi having an injury-time penalty saved.

Ronaldo went into Real Madrid's potentially difficult encounter with La Liga's new-money club Malaga not having scored for three games – a veritable drought for a player who has scored 98 goals in 103 games for the club. He put that right in one deadly quarter hour. First he converted an Angel Di Maria cross with a left-foot finish and there was barely time to complete the cringe-worthy dance celebration with full-back Marcelo before he had bagged his second from a Xabi Alonso pass.

He completed the treble with a back-heeled volley from another Di Maria cross. "Normally I like to see players score goals that we have worked on in training but as a football fan that was a goal to remember," said Jose Mourinho of Ronaldo's third goal and Madrid's fourth after Gonzalo Higuain's opener.

Eyes were turned to Camp Nou to see if the victory would be enough to take them above their rivals – it would not have been, but for Seville keeper Javi Varas. Barcelona had 20 shots on goal and he was a match for every one of them. Two minutes into injury time it seemed the heroics would count for nothing when Andres Iniesta went down in a crowded box and Barcelona were awarded their first penalty of the season.

Messi had only ever missed five in his career but, as he sent it to Varas's left, the keeper got down to palm it around his post to earn Seville a dramatic draw.