Eto'o hat-trick keeps Barcelona in hot pursuit

Pete Jenson
Monday 25 February 2008 01:00

There was talk of Real Madrid wrapping up the Spanish title in time to be given a guard of honour by Barcelona's players when they visit the Bernabeu three weeks from the end of the season, but that will not be happening if Samuel Eto'o has anything to do with it.

Back from the African Nations Cup and starting in place of the rested Thierry Henry, Eto'o scored a hat-trick last night as Barcelona hammered lowly Levante 5-1 to keep up the heat on the leaders.

The value of that win was increased when Real then crashed to a 1-0 defeat to Madrid rivals Getafe at the Bernabeu. the Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche hit the winner for Getafe, who are the Real coach Bernd Schuster's former club. The defeat leaves them just two points ahead of Barça.

At the Nou Camp Levante severely test the theory that there are no easy games any more. Rock bottom with just 16 points from 25 games, their players have not been paid for almost a year and there was even talk of a minute's sit-in before kick-off in protest at their economic plight.

As it was, the closest thing to a sit-in came with Barcelona camped in Levante's penalty area. Thanks to Eto'o, the chances were turned into goals.

On the quarter-hour his pass set up Xavi to shoot home through a crowd of players. Ronaldinho should have made it two with the next attack when an Eto'o cross ran to him, but he blasted over. That miss encouraged the visitors, who dramatically pulled level when Gianluca Zambrotta handled the ball and Mustapha Riga gently placed the penalty past Victor Valdes.

Sanity was restored on the stroke of half-time when the outstanding Lionel Messi lashed a left-foot shot past the Levante goalkeeper Vladan Kujovic. Then Eto'o took over. Eleven minutes into the second period he made it 3-1 by sliding in a Messi pass. Six minutes later, after Messi had received the ball from Eric Abidal and squared to the Cameroon striker, Eto'o finished to make it four. Three minutes from time he somewhat fortuitously finished Bojan Krkic's cross to complete his hat-trick.

While Barcelona battle Real for the La Liga title, Seville are making a charge for one of the two remaining Champions League places, overcoming off-the-pitch adversity with their fourth win in five games.

On Saturday Luis Fabiano was the hero. He only scored twice in their 5-0 demolition of Real Zaragoza but still took the match ball home as a gift for his family, who had been robbed in their home at gunpoint on Friday afternoon.

The Brazilian striker was at training when armed raiders threatened his wife and young daughters and made away with jewellery and money. Hours earlier thieves had broken into the home of the Seville goalkeeper Andres Palop, but were disturbed and fled empty handed.

"It was a special game for me. My family and I have had a real shock and I'm taking the ball home as a gift to them," said the forward, whose 19 goals have put him just behind Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo in the running for the Golden Boot for Europe's top scorer.

Fabiano hit two goals in the first half from Dani Alves' passes, then Roberto Ayala made it three with an own goal. Carlos Diogo, who was later sent off, also put through his own net and Seydou Keita completed the rout with the fifth.

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