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May 19, 2013

Barca still on pace to match record haul

BARCELONA, Spain -- Newly crowned Spanish champion Barcelona celebrated winning the league title in front of its home fans by easing to a 2-1 victory over Valladolid on Sunday.

While rain and dropping temperatures dampened the party in the stands, Barcelona had little trouble keeping alive its bid to equal Real Madrid's 2012 record haul of 100 points even without the injured Lionel Messi.

The weather cleared up in time for Messi to join the rest of his teammates to receive the trophy, which captain Carles Puyol handed over for coach Tito Vilanova and Eric Abidal to lift to the cheers of the Camp Nou crowd in recognition of the serious health problems both have come back from this season.

"We won the league, but the most important thing is that Eric and Tito are with us," said Puyol, before adding the traditional battle cry of "Long live Barca! Long live Catalonia!"

Vilanova underwent surgery in December to remove a second throat tumor in two years, and only returned after receiving further cancer treatment for 10 weeks in New York. He is set to return to New York this week for more tests.

Abidal, meanwhile, returned to the pitch recently after having recovered from a liver transplant last year.

"We are proud of this title but we are also proud of them," said Xavi. "They deserve it for having fought back to be here."

Messi held baby son Thiago in his arms to watch the firework show alongside his teammates and their children.

With Messi out after aggravating a hamstring injury, Xavi Hernandez took charge of the match and passed for Pedro Rodriguez to score in the 21st minute.

Valladolid defender Marc Valiente sent Xavi's cross into his own net in the 42nd, before teammate Victor Perez scored a penalty in the 89th.

Vilanova's side has 94 points and has games left against Espanyol and Malaga to reach the 100-point milestone.

"We are happy for the win. It's a great joy to celebrate the title with our fans," said Pedro. "We wanted to give a good image tonight and we're happy we were able to do so.

"We have the motivation to reach the 100 points, which would be something important for this team."

Barcelona received a guard of honor from Valladolid at the start of the match, and then kept on strolling to the comfortable win as its fans sporadically chanted "champions! champions!" throughout the match.

Valladolid offered little resistance after having long secured a second consecutive season in the top flight.

Xavi stole a pass from defender Jesus Rueda and laid the ball off for Pedro to slot it under goalkeeper Jaime Jimenez while sliding to the turf. Valiente then bumbled Xavi's corner over his own goal line.

After Barcelona had squandered its chances, Perez scored Valladolid's consolation goal from the spot after Barcelona defender Martin Montoya fouled Manucho on the break.

Perez rifled his penalty by Victor Valdes, who was making his 500th appearance for Barcelona and possibly one of his last. He has said he won't extend his contract beyond the end of next season, meaning the club may look to sell him in the offseason.

Barcelona was without defenders Dani Alves, Adriano, and Abidal due to muscle-related injuries. Defender Javier Mascherano, however, returned for his first game since injuring his right knee on April 2, the same date that Messi picked up his injury that has nagged him ever since.

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