La Liga: Valencia beat Barca as title race hots up
MADRID, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Valencia beat leaders Barcelona 2-1 at the Mestalla to put themselves firmly in the Primera Liga title race on Sunday.
Two quick goals early in the second half by Miguel Angel Angulo and David Silva settled a hotly contested match, which saw Valencia's David Albelda and Barca's Deco sent off for a pair of ugly challenges near the hour mark.
Ronaldinho pulled a goal back for the visitors with a freekick at the end.
Barcelona stay top but have been joined by second-placed Sevilla on 46 points after they swept aside Atletico Madrid 3-1 at home in the late game.
Valencia climbed above Real Madrid into third on 42 points due to their superior goal difference. Real dropped to fourth after being held 0-0 at home by Real Betis on Saturday.
Mali striker Frederic Kanoute and fullback Daniel Alves put Sevilla ahead inside 21 minutes against Atletico and survived a red card for midfielder Jose Luis Marti in the 35th minute.
Kanoute made sure of the win with a second-half header to take his tally for the season to 18, although Atletico pulled a goal back near the end through Pablo Ibanez.
Atletico are fifth on 39 points.
Earlier on Sunday, Recreativo Huelva moved up to seventh with a 1-0 home victory over Real Sociedad and stay two points behind sixth-placed Real Zaragoza who have 38.
Ten-man Celta Vigo secured their first win in 12 league games thanks to a second-minute header from Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano. They had midfielder Fabian Canobbio sent off just before the break but hung on for the three points.
With Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o left at home to work on his fitness, Barca coach Frank Rijkaard started with Iceland striker Eidur Gudjohnsen in Valencia.
Barca dominated possession while Valencia looked to exploit the pace of their front players on the counter-attack.
Visiting goalkeeper Victor Valdes denied David Villa in a one-on-one after just seven minutes, but chances were at a premium throughout.
Valencia blew the game open with two goals in three minutes early in the second half.
Villa broke down the left and picked out Angulo's darting run with a low pass that the Spain forward sidefooted home from close range.
The second came when Valdes could only parry a shot from the right by Angulo, who collected the rebound and fed Silva to fire low into the exposed net.
Rijkaard threw Argentine Lionel Messi into the game and Albelda welcomed him with a studs up challenge from behind on the hour.
Deco flew in with a similar tackle on Albelda while the player was on the ground, and the referee sent both off.
Messi and Ronaldinho spearheaded Barca's desperate attempts to get back into the game but the Brazilian's low freekick around the wall in time added was too late for a fightback.