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Friday, May 13, 2011

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Champions again: Barcelona¥x81fs Lionel Messi is congratulated after his side clinched the Spanish League title after a 1-1 draw with Levante on Wednesday night. AP PHOTO

Barca bags third straight league title


BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona celebrated its third straight Spanish League title Wednesday evening on the very same pitch where the Catalan club began its current run of unparalleled successes seven seasons ago.

Barcelona's 1-1 draw at Levante earned the club its fifth league crown since 2005 and its 21st in its 111-year history.

Seydou Keita headed home Xavi Hernandez's pass to put Barcelona ahead in the 28th minute, only to see Levante striker Felipe Caicedo level the score in the 40th after a mistake by Gerard Pique.

"Each league title has been tough to win," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "Now it is time to enjoy it."

Barcelona now has doubly fond memories of the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium.

In 2005, a Barcelona side then managed by Frank Rijkaard drew 1-1 thanks to Samuel Eto'o's second-half equalizer to seal its first league title in five years. That championship began a winning era that has included two Champions League trophies, five Spanish League titles, one Club World Cup and a King's Cup.

Seven years later, Barcelona still maintains five players from that same squad: Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes.

"Without these players, Barcelona's hegemony would not be possible," said Guardiola, who lifted his third league title in as many years at the helm of the club he once played for. "They have worked hard every day and the titles are the result."

Real Madrid, which holds a record 31 league titles, will finish runnerup for the third consecutive season.

With the Spanish League wrapped up with two games remaining, Barcelona can now turn its full attention to preparing for the Champions League final against Manchester United on May 28 at Wembley Stadium.

"It is a very important day for all our fans," said Keita. "Now we have to think in the final of the Champions League, which is also a very important game to win for this club."

Levante remained undefeated in nine straight home games and the well-earned point boosted its chances of staying up.

"Today's game was anguishing for both sides," Guardiola said. "They sat back and waited for us to attack. We had some chances and in the last 10 minutes the result was good for both sides so the game ended with a draw."

Fullback Eric Abidal returned to the starting 11 for Barcelona for the first time since recovering from surgery to remove a liver tumor, while Keita and Dutch international Ibrahim Afellay got the nod over regular starters Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez.

As they have done against almost every opponent this season, Barcelona dominated the possession of the ball from the opening whistle.

Levante took seven minutes to cross the halfway line, but once it did the Spanish minnow dared to threaten the defending champions area with strikes by Francisco Nadal and ex-Barcelona youth product Xavi Torres.

Barcelona appeared to miss Pedro's speed and Iniesta's dribbling early on as it failed to penetrate Levante's defense. But Xavi soon picked out Keita charging forward with a perfectly placed long pass that the Mali midfielder expertly redirected into the top left corner of the net.

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