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By ESPN Staff
May 7, 2008

La Liga: Real Madrid crush arch-rivals Barcelona

MADRID, May 7 (Reuters) - Real Madrid celebrated their league title triumph in style by crushing arch-rivals Barcelona 4-1 at the Bernabeu on Wednesday and helping deprive the Catalans of an automatic place in the Champions League.

First-half goals from Raul and Arjen Robben, a classy strike from Gonzalo Higuain and a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty earned Bernd Schuster's side an emphatic win that delighted the home fans packed into the rain-soaked stadium.

Defeat for Barcelona, combined with Villarreal's 2-0 victory at relegation-threatened Recreativo Huelva left the Catalans seven points behind Manuel Pellegrini's side who will now finish second in the standings, their best finish in the league.

Villarreal's Turkish striker Nihat Kahveci took his tally this season to 18 with a curling free kick early in the second half and Mexico striker Guillermo Franco made sure of the win late in the game.

With two matches left to play, champions Real lead the table on 81 points, 10 ahead of Villarreal and 17 clear of Barca who have won just one of their last seven games.

'We wanted to celebrate the title with our fans and play a great game and we did that,' Schuster told a news conference. 'The attitude of the players was superb.'

Atletico Madrid, who play Espanyol on Thursday, are in fourth a further six points back, level with Sevilla who won 3-0 at Racing Santander.

Osasuna stay in the drop zone after a last-gasp 2-1 defeat at Real Mallorca, although Recreativo are in front of them only because of a better head-to-head record.

Real Zaragoza also remain in danger after losing 1-0 at Valencia but Getafe eased their relegation worries after coming from two goals down to claim a 4-2 win at home to Almeria to move up to 14th place.

Barca had to clap Real on to the pitch at the start of their game in the traditional tribute to the league champions and they appeared strangely intimidated when the game began.

Real seemed to suffer no hangover from their late night title celebrations on Sunday and took immediate control, bossing the midfield and causing Barca's shaky defence several early scares.

It came as little surprise when Real took the lead after 13 minutes, Raul curling a shot around goalkeeper Victor Valdes after Guti's pass had ricocheted off Barca defender Rafael Marquez.

Barca, without the suspended Samuel Eto'o and Deco and the injured Gabriel Milito and Andres Iniesta, appeared powerless to respond and Real took advantage of more uncertain defending eight minutes later.

Guti whipped a free kick into the area and Dutch winger Robben nodded the ball past Valdes to score his second headed goal in two games.

The third came 17 minutes into the second half, Higuain, who hit the winner in Real's dramatic 2-1 comeback win at Osasuna on Sunday, scoring within a minute of stepping into the action.

The Argentine ran on to a neat ball from Mahamadou Diarra, darted between two defenders and coolly lifted the ball past the helpless Valdes.

Van Nistelrooy, making his return after six weeks out with an ankle injury, wrapped up the win from the penalty spot 11 minutes from time after Carles Puyol handled in the area.

Thierry Henry scored a late goal for Barca but it was little consolation for a side who were outclassed and finished the game with 10 men when midfielder Xavi was sent off in stoppage time.