Messi double as Barcelona close gap

    Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his second goal in Barcelona's 4-2 victory over Real Betis.

    Story highlights

    • Lionel Messi scores twice as Barcelona defeat Real Betis 4-2 at Nou Camp
    • The scoreline was 2-2 when Mario Vazquez was sent off with 20 minutes left
    • Barcelona now five points behind leaders Real Madrid at the top of La Liga
    • The Spanish rivals will meet on Wednesday in first leg of Spanish Cup quarterfinal
    Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona beat 10-man Real Betis 4-2 at the Nou Camp on Sunday to close the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid to five points ahead of this week's El Clasico Spanish Cup clash.
    Madrid came from behind to beat Mallorca 2-1 to go eight points clear on Saturday, and Barcelona looked to be strolling to victory after taking an early two-goal advantage.
    Xavi, playing in his 400th league game for Barca, opened the scoring in the 10th minute when he followed up after Cesc Fabregas' shot had struck the post.
    And Messi doubled the home side's lead two minutes later after good work on the left from Alexis Sanchez.
    However, Barca took their foot off the gas and Ruben Castro pulled a goal back for Betis from close range -- the first league goal the champions had conceded at home this season.
    Then, just seven minutes after the break, on-loan Manchester City forward Roque Santa Cruz stunned the Nou Camp with an equalizing goal.
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    But the tide turned when Betis had Mario Vazquez sent off with 20 minutes remaining -- and five minutes later Barca took the lead when Sanchez fired home from the edge of the area.
    And Messi rounded off the victory from the penalty spot after Jose Dorado was adjudged to have handled in the area.
    Real Madrid have 46 points from their 18 matches, five clear of Barcelona ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey quarterfinal first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
    Barca moved seven points clear of third-placed Valencia, who suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat by Real Sociedad on Saturday.
    Levante stayed fourth on 30 points despite a 3-0 thumping at Athletic Bilbao, who are now just four points behind in fifth.
    First-half goals from Fernando Amorebieta and Fernando Llorente and a last-minute Mikel San Jose header continued Bilbao's fine recent form.
    Malaga lost ground in the race for a Champions League place after a 2-1 defeat at Sporting Gijon as Diego Trejo scored a last-gasp winner.
    Meanwhile, Diego Simeone's first home match as Atletico Madrid coach got off to a perfect start with a 3-0 win over Villarreal.