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Dec, 22, 2012

Lionel Messi finishes 2012 with 91st goal

Lionel Messi concluded his record year with his 91st and final goal of 2012 in Barcelona's 3-1 win at Valladolid on Saturday, which the team dedicated to ailing coach Tito Vilanova.

Messi scored in the 59th minute by dribbling between a defender's legs before making it 2-0 after Xavi Hernandez had opened the scoring two minutes before halftime.

Barcelona's players wore T-shirts before the game with messages of support for Vilanova, who had throat surgery to remove a second tumor in two years on Thursday.

"This win is for Tito," Barcelona defender Dani Alves said. "It's a surprise and joy that he is home now. We are here to help him any way he can. Football is secondary now, he is fighting for his life."

Barcelona remained perfect in nine away games and extended its record league start with its 16th win in 17 rounds. It opened up a nine-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid and a 16-point gap over Real Madrid after it lost to Malaga later Saturday.

In the first half, Daniel Hernandez fielded Messi's free kick and the Argentinian was denied again by Marc Valiente's block.

Valladolid was then denied a penalty when Alba appeared to handle, but Barca was soon back on the attack.

Another free kick, this time from Xavi, was off target and Hernandez then saved Messi's header, but the hosts could not hold out for halftime.

A slick passing move ended with Alba crossing low from the left side of the penalty area and Xavi stretched to convert the chance.

The second half started with Pedro heading Alves' cross against the post. Messi then dragged a poor shot wide but soon doubled his side's lead with a trademark piece of brilliance.

Receiving Xavi's pass surrounded by defenders, he nutmegged Henrique Sereno before sending a low shot across Hernandez and in off the far post.

Another Messi effort went wide before Valladolid substitute Guerra cut the deficit, finishing at the second attempt after Victor Valdes saved his initial header.

But Barca immediately restored its two-goal cushion, with Tello beating the hapless Sereno before stroking the ball home.

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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