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Apr 25, 2009

La Liga: Late Henry goal saves Barca at Valencia

A late equaliser from substitute Thierry Henry ensured Barcelona snatched a point against Valencia on a dramatic night at the Mestalla.

Two goals in as many minutes from Hedwiges Maduro and Pablo Hernandez at the end of the first half turned the match on its head after Lionel Messi had given the league leaders the advantage in the 24th minute.

It seemed as if Los Che were about to pull off a shock result which could have thrown the title race wide open but Henry equalised four minutes from time.

The result extends Barca's lead to seven points over Real Madrid, who travel to Sevilla tomorrow, while Valencia have four points more than Villarreal - who have a game in hand - in the race for a Champions League berth.

Barca, who rested several key players ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, started the brighter but could not carve out any clear-cut opportunities and Valencia slowly began to get a foothold in the game.

The hosts enjoyed the best chance of the opening stages in the 18th minute when David Villa drilled in a free-kick from 30 yards but his effort lacked power and Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes made a comfortable save.

The Catalans took the lead six minutes later in typical Barca fashion when Andres Iniesta beat the offside trap and dragged several Valencia defenders and goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez towards him before cutting the ball back to Messi who calmly slotted home.

The ever-dangerous Iniesta carved out another chance for Barca four minutes later when he released Samuel Eto'o on the edge of the area but his effort flew narrowly wide of the left upright.

A minute later Valencia were left fuming as they had two penalty claims turned down within a matter of moments.

The second in particular had the home players surrounding the referee in disbelief after Carles Puyol appeared to push over Villa but it was a good decision and the Valencia striker was lucky to avoid being booked for diving.

Messi could have doubled his tally in the 39th minute as he raced towards goal and almost forced his way past four Valencia shirts on the edge of the area before the ball was scrambled to safety.

Los Che had begun to up the pressure and suddenly the game was transformed two minutes from half-time when Valdes pulled off a good save to tip David Silva's header over.

However, Barca's relief was short-lived and questions have to be asked again of Valdes' frailty between the posts as the goalkeeper came out for the ensuing corner but completely missed the ball, allowing Maduro to nudge it home.

Worse was to come for Barca in stoppage time as a brilliant one-two between Juan Manuel Mata and Hernandez was finished by the latter forcing his way past Puyol and Dani Alves before lashing home.

The second half started at less frantic a pace than the first had ended and it was not until several minutes after the restart that Barca had their first sight of goal when Dani Alves' free-kick sailed over the bar.

Valencia came within inches of an almost certain third when Hernandez sent a low rasping cross fizzing across the area but Valdes dived smartly to grab at it before a home player could get a touch.

Henry was brought on moments later and could have had an immediate effect as he twice came close to levelling.

The Catalans were laying siege to the Valencia goal and eventually made the breakthrough four minutes from time when Cesar leapt out of goal to grab a corner but only succeeded in pushing it to the feet of Henry who lashed in the equaliser.

Valencia almost immediately restored their lead but Valdes pulled off a stunning save to deny Villa from a tight angle and the disappointed hosts were forced to settle for a point.

Elsewhere tonight, Malaga and Deportivo La Coruna played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at La Rosaleda to both remain in contention for a place in next season's Europa League.

Malaga, who began the day in sixth place, took the lead after 32 minutes through much-travelled striker Albert Luque.

But Depor, in seventh before this match with a point fewer than the Andalusians, hit back five minutes into the second half through Sergio Gonzalez.

At the other end, Almeria look virtually safe from relegation after beating basement boys Numancia 2-1 tonight.

Hugo Sanchez's side reached the 40-point mark with first-half goals from Kalu Uche and Fernando Soriano sealing a deserved win.

The visitors hit back through Asier Goiria with nine minutes left, but were unable to find a way back into the game.

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