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Messi penalty denies valencia

Lionel Messi extended his record streak by scoring in his 12th consecutive Spanish league game to give leader Barcelona a 1-1 draw at Valencia, while Atletico Madrid remained perfect at home through 20 games in all competitions.

Midfielder Ever Banega struck first for Valencia in the 33rd, only for Messi to level for the visitors from the penalty spot six minutes later.

Former Valencia star David Villa had Barcelona’s best chance late but failed to finish on the break before goalkeeper Victor Valdes made an excellent save to deny Roberto Soldado two minutes from time and ensure a point for each side.

 It was Barcelona’s second draw in five days after being held 1-1 by archrival Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. But it still boasts a league record of 19 wins, two draws and one loss and leads Madrid by 16 points after the defending champions’ 1-0 loss at Granada on Saturday from Cristiano Ronaldo’s first career own goal.

 ‘We never take the league title for granted, there is still a long way to go,’ said defender Jordi Alba in his first trip back to Valencia since joining Barcelona last offseason.

‘Today we played against a great team.’

 Second-place Atletico cut into Barcelona’s hefty lead by beating Real Betis 1-0 to reduce the gap with the pacesetters to nine points.

Radamel Falcao returned for Atletico after a two-week injury layoff, but it took forward Diego Costa coming off the bench in the 56th to head home the winner five minutes later.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Malaga was held to a 1-1 home draw by Real Zaragoza in the return of forward Julio Baptista after a 16-month layoff with a broken right foot, while Sevilla beat visiting Rayo Vallecano 2-1 as it continued to show improvement under new coach Unai Emery.

Real Sociedad rolled to a 3-0 victory over 10-man Mallorca, with Scotland defender Alan Hutton debuting for the losers after arriving on loan from Aston Villa during the winter transfer market.


MARIO STEALS MILAN HEARTS ON DEBUT

Mario Balotelli marked his return to Serie A by scoring both goals - including the winner in added time - in AC Milan’s 2-1 win over Udinese on Sunday. Balotelli gave Milan the lead in the 25th minute at the San Siro by redirecting a cross from Stephen El Shaarawy at the edge of the box with one touch. Then after Giampiero Pinzi had brought Udinese level in the 55th, Balotelli put Milan back in front with a penalty four minutes into injury time. ‘Playing for Milan was my dream and I’ll do everything possible to win in the face of those who thought I wasn’t worthy of Milan,’ said Balotelli, who grew up cheering for the Rossoneri. After cooly kicking in the winner, Balotelli held his arms out wide toward the crowd, as if saying, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Balotelli is a first-rate star,’ said Milan vice president Adriano Galliani, who orchestrated the Italy striker’s transfer from Manchester City. The win moved Milan level with its city rival and Balotelli’s former club Inter Milan in fourth place, 12 points behind Italian league leader Juventus.


SKIPPER STEVEN GERRARD IS ENGLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Steven Gerrard was on Sunday named as England’s player of the year for 2012 after winning over 40 percent of a fans’ vote, the Football Association announced. The 32-year-old Liverpool star edged out Danny Welbeck and Ashley Cole to clinch the award. England captain Gerrard became his country’s sixth cap centurion in November when he chalked up his 100th appearance in the meeting with Sweden. ‘I still feel fresh, looking forward to the next game as much as my debut. Every time you put the England shirt on, it is a proud moment,’ said the Liverpool skipper and midfielder.


CECH SIDELINED WITH INJURY


Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has broken his little finger and will miss the Czech Republic’s friendly against hosts Turkey in Manisa on Wednesday, national team head coach Michal Bilek said on Monday. ‘Petr is not flying with us,’ Bilek told reporters adding Cech had broken the finger during Chelsea’s 3-2 Premier League defeat at Newcastle.
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