Barcelona clinches league as Real Madrid bows out

Barcelona clinches league as Real Madrid bows out

MADRID - The Associated Press
Barcelona clinches league as Real Madrid bows out

Barcelona clinched the Spanish league crowd after Real Madrid drew against rival Espanyol. AP photo

Lionel Messi might have powered Barcelona to this season’s Spanish league crown, but it fell to humble crosstown rival Espanyol to finally finish off Real Madrid’s title defense with a 1-1 draw on May 11.

So after 10 months of competition, Barcelona’s 22nd league title and fourth in five years wasn’t decided at Camp Nou, but rather a few miles away at Cornella-El Prat Stadium.

Madrid had staved off Barcelona’s title celebration by winning its last three games, but the titleholders failed to delay it any longer.

“I have to congratulate Barcelona, its coaches, players, board, and fans,” said Madrid coach Jose Mourinho. “It just won a league that was ours until today, and the least we can do is to congratulate them.”

Espanyol scores first

Espanyol’s Cristian Stuani opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. Gonzalo Higuain leveled in the 58th, but Madrid couldn’t find the winner even with Cristiano Ronaldo going on to help.

Barcelona sealed the league with a seven-point lead and four games to go, and with Madrid having only six more points in play. “The best gift, turning 29 and winning the league... the prize for the work of the entire year,” Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, who turned 29 on May 11, wrote on Twitter.

Crowds immediately gathered in Barcelona’s city center to toast the trophy, and the club announced on its website that it would hold a parade on Monday to celebrate its latest piece of silverware, and its only one of the season.

But Barcelona still has something to play for in its remaining four games, starting with a trip to third-place Atletico Madrid on Sunday: winning would mean it matches Madrid’s claim to the best campaign ever from last season when it hauled in a record 100 points.

Madrid stumbles

“Our first objective is to win the league,” said Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova. “Reaching 100 points isn’t a title, but now that we don’t have games midweek we can play each one in better shape. If we can go for it we will try to do so.”

Madrid’s game at Espanyol was a microcosm of its season: too little, and too late. Madrid stumbled at the start of the league campaign and then when it started to reel off wins, Barcelona was too far ahead.

“Barcelona is the rightful champion,” said Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso. “The league is won by the most consistent team, and we had a bad start to the season that didn’t let us compete until the end. Our goal is (now) the Copa.”