Barca drop points in 1-1 draw away to Levante
MADRID, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Barcelona were denied a morale-boosting win ahead of their Champions League decider against Werder Bremen next week when they were held to a 1-1 draw away to Levante in the Primera Liga on Saturday.
The European and Spanish champions have to beat Werder on Tuesday to stay in the competition and clearly had one eye on that game as they put in a low-key performance against Levante.
Portuguese midfielder Deco put Barca ahead with a curling free-kick that went in off the post just before the break. Levante levelled through defender Alvaro 13 minutes from time.
Barcelona, with 30 points, moved two points clear of second-placed Sevilla who visit Espanyol on Sunday, when Real Madrid, who are third with 26, host Athletic Bilbao in the Bernabeu.
Atletico Madrid climbed to fourth with 24 points thanks to Argentine goalkeeper Leo Franco who saved two second-half penalties away to Real Betis, to secure a 1-0 victory.
Argentine winger Luciano Galletti scored the only goal in the first half in a result that piles the pressure on Betis coach Javier Irureta.
Below them an injury-ravaged Valencia fell 2-0 away at promoted Recreativo Huleva, their third straight league defeat.
Recre midfielder Aitor scored in the first minute after a swift break and his side were let off the hook 10 minutes later when visiting forward David Silva missed an open goal.
French striker Florent Sinama Pongolle rounded Santiago Canizares to clinch the points eight minutes from time.
Recre went sixth on 22 points, while Valencia remained eighth with 18.
Barca coach Frank Rijkaard had rested Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, the league's top scorer with 10 goals, and the side clearly missed his spark.
Victor Valdes had made sharp saves from Riga and Nino before Deco's perfectly executed free-kick put them ahead in the 41st minute.
Barca dominated possession and substitute Santi Ezquerro had a chip palmed on to the post by Jose Molina late in the second half.
But soon after Levante, who had been threatening with quick counter-attacks, drew level.
Striker Olivier Kapo drilled a low free-kick into the box which Valdes could only parry into a crowded area, and Brazilian defender Alvaro jabbed the loose ball in from close range.