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  5. La Liga: Messi's brace helps FC Barcelona defeat Las Palmas in empty Camp Nou

La Liga: Messi's brace helps FC Barcelona defeat Las Palmas in empty Camp Nou

Barcelona played behind closed doors amid the disputed referendum over Catalonia's independence on Sunday.

AP Reported by: AP Barcelona Published on: October 01, 2017 23:31 IST
La Liga
Image Source : AP A file image of the Barcelona players celebrating in front of an empty crowd.

Lionel Messi scored two second-half goals as Barcelona defeated Las Palmas 3-0 for its seventh straight Spanish league victory in a game played behind closed doors amid the disputed referendum on Catalonia's independence on Sunday.

Sergio Busquets opened the scoring with a header early in the second half. Messi added his goals seven minutes apart toward the end of the game at the empty Camp Nou, Europe's largest stadium with a capacity of nearly 100,000.

The victory gave Barcelona a five-point lead over Sevilla, which defeated visiting Malaga 2-0 on Saturday.

Third-place Atletico Madrid could not manage more than a 0-0 draw at Leganes, dropping six points behind Barcelona.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Espanyol later Sunday.

Messi's first goal deserved a bigger audience, with the Argentine dribbling his way past the goalkeeper before finding the open net in the 70th minute. His second was an easy shot from close range after a pass by Luis Suarez.

Messi reached 14 goals in 11 matches this season. He is the league's scoring leader with 11 goals in seven matches.

Barcelona, which openly backed the referendum, wanted to postpone the match but had its request denied by the Spanish league.

The club decided to play the game to avoid losing points but kept the stadium empty "to show the entire world that we were not pleased with what happened (in Catalonia)," club president Josep Bartomeu said.

The Spanish league said there was no reason to suspend the game because authorities had guaranteed the safety of everyone involved, including the fans.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said more than 460 people had been injured in Catalonia in clashes with Spanish police as Spanish authorities tried to stop the independence vote that the central government said was unconstitutional.

Las Palmas added a Spanish flag to the shirts that the players wore against Barcelona to show its support for a unified Spain. The Canary Islands club said that the match had become more than a sporting event, especially because of the recent statements by Barcelona expressing its support for the referendum.

Las Palmas was debuting coach Pako Ayestaran, who was hired last week after Manolo Marquez resigned.

Andre Iniesta came off the bench at halftime but had to leave near the end of the game with an apparent injury.

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