Ronaldinho back to inspire Barcelona's five-star show

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The Independent Online

Ronaldinho celebrated his return from suspension with a goal and led FC Barcelona's 5-1 win over Real Betis on Saturday, extending the club's lead to seven points atop the Spanish league.

Henrik Larsson and substitute Lionel Messi also scored at Camp Nou stadium, while Betis defender Juan "Melli" Andreu contributed two own-goals to end Barcelona's two-match losing streak.

Earlier on Saturday, Real Madrid climbed past idle Valencia into second place with a 3-0 win over Alaves on goals by Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez, Robinho and Cicinho at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

In other 24th-round games, Diego Forlan scored his first goal in two months to help Villarreal beat Espanyol 4-0, while Sevilla edged Celta Vigo 1-0.

Barcelona leads the league with 55 points, while Madrid has 48, Valencia 46 and Osasuna 43. Valencia can reclaim second place on Sunday if it wins at Real Sociedad.

Also on Sunday, it's Cadiz vs. Osasuna, Deportivo La Coruna vs. Zaragoza, Racing Santander vs. Athletic Bilbao, Malaga vs. Mallorca, and Getafe vs. Atletico Madrid.

Prior to the game at Nou Camp, Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o displayed the trophy for African player of the year he received for a third straight time in Abuja, Nigeria on Thursday.

Ronaldinho, who had missed Barcelona's last two games, created the first goal in the 17th minute by sending the ball to Eto'o on the right. The Cameroon striker crossed the ball to a sliding Larsson, who bundled it over the line.

The goal was the fifth of the season for the Swedish striker, who on Thursday announced his decision to return home to join Helsingborg for next season.

Melli intercepted Ronaldinho's pass in the 29th minute only to prod it past his goalkeeper Toni Doblas for Barcelona's second.

Melli made his second unfortunate intervention five minutes later when Ronaldinho's free kick was deflected by Betis' wall but the ball then hit the defender's back and bounced into the net.

Doblas allowed Ronaldinho's curling free kick to slip through his hands in the 59th minute for the home team's fourth goal, although Betis reduced the deficit from winger Joaquin Sanchez's free kick three minutes later.

With Barcelona visiting Chelsea in the European Champions League second round on Wednesday, coach Frank Rijkaard inserted Messi for the final 15 minutes following his recent injury absence.

The teenage forward completed the scoring in the 85th after dribbling through Betis' defense and an initial shot, which Doblas parried.

Guti set Madrid on the way to its sixth straight league win in the sixth minute when he shot from the edge of the area on Robinho's pass.

The midfielder initiated the second goal five minutes later by lifting the ball over an Alaves defender to Julio Baptista, who headed it upward before hitting the post with an overhead kick. Robinho swept the rebound home.

Madrid captain Raul Gonzalez replaced Baptista in the 67th minute for his first appearance since injuring his knee in November.

Substitute Cicinho sealed the win 11 minutes later with the aid of a deflection off Alaves defender Juanito Gutierrez following a combination between Raul and reserve Antonio Cassano.

Madrid, which crushed Zaragoza 4-0 in a Copa del Rey semifinal second leg on Tuesday only to lose 6-5 on aggregate, rested Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos and Jonathan Woodgate ahead of Tuesday's Champions League game with Arsenal.

Mario Luna made his debut as Alaves' manager after the club owner Dmitry Piterman dismissed Juan Carlos Oliva on Thursday due to a dispute over the lineup for the game.

Alessio Tacchinardi and Marcos Senna gave Villarreal a 2-0 lead before Forlan, La Liga's leading scorer with 25 goals last season, scored at El Madrigal stadium. It was the Forlan's fifth of the season but first since Villarreal's 2-1 win over Getafe on Dec. 18.

Substitute Hector Font completed the win with a low shot from Forlan's pass in the 82nd, Villarreal's first in four matches. Villarreal travels to play Glasgow Rangers on Wednesday in the European Champions League.

Villarreal improved to seventh place with 38 points, while Espanyol, which also lost to Schalke in the UEFA Cup on Wednesday, stayed in 14th place with 24.

Sevilla moved past Celta into fifth place thanks to an 11th-minute goal by striker Javier Saviola.

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