SEVILLE — Lionel Messi set a record for goals scored in a calendar year as unbeaten La Liga leaders Barcelona stayed six points clear of chasing Atletico Madrid with a nervy 2-1 win at Real Betis on Sunday.
Report by Reuters
The Argentine World Player of the Year netted his 85th and 86th goals of 2012 in an entertaining game at the Benito Villamarin in Seville to overhaul the previous best of 85 set by German Gerd Mueller in 1972.
Messi’s exploits overshadowed those of Atletico striker Radamel Falcao, who earlier put bottom side Deportivo Coruña to the sword with a five-goal haul in a crushing 6-0 home success.
The prolific Colombian, known as “the tiger” and coveted by many of Europe’s richest clubs, took his tally for the season to 16 in 15 matches as Atletico restored a five-point advantage over city rivals Real Madrid.
Jose Mourinho’s Real side had to twice come from behind to scrape a 3-2 win at Real Valladolid on Saturday which closed the gap to Atletico, who they beat 2-0 at the Bernabeu last weekend, to two points overnight.
However, Atletico responded by romping to a 12th win in 15 outings this term against a promoted Depor side in danger of dropping straight back to the second division.
Barça have won all of their games this season apart from a 2-2 draw at home to Real in October and Messi’s double put them on 43 points, with Atletico on 37 and Real on 32.
Tito Vilanova’s side dominated the first half, but lost control after the break and Betis were three times denied by the frame of the goal.
Messi equalled Mueller’s record when he picked up the ball in a central position in the 16th minute and left the Betis defence standing before sending an angled shot across goal into the bottom right corner.
Andres Iniesta’s clever back heel set Messi up to score again nine minutes later with a sweeping strike from a similar position just inside the penalty area that flew into the same corner of the goal.
Ruben Castro pulled a goal back for the home side in the 39th minute to set the stage for a difficult second half for the visitors.
Messi came close to a hat-trick just over five minutes from time when he spun in the area and Betis goalkeeper Adrian turned his shot onto a post before Jordi Alba struck the rebound off the top off the crossbar.
The defeat was tough on Betis, who beat Real 1-0 at home last month and gave Barça one of their toughest workouts so far this season which deserved at least a point.