Barcelona is so strong that it can overcome an early mistake by superstar Lionel Messi and still roll to victory.

Take, for instance, the La Liga leaders 4-1 win over second-place Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Messi was striped of the ball, which led to a goal by red-hot Colombian striker Radamel Falcao in the 31st minute, but Barca seemed to hardly flinch, taking the lead by halftime. Messi added two goals in the second half as he increased his world-record to 90 in a calendar year.

The triumph boosted Barcelona (15-0-1, 46 points) to a nine-point lead over Atletico and 13 points ahead of Real Madrid, which could must only a 2-2 home tie against Espanyol.

"Messi is the best player in the world," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "We brought out our best weapons, but Barcelona is playing at a different level. You can't do anything against their determination. This league is boring."

Barca defender Gerard Pique put it a different way. "This league is ours to lose," he said.

Falcao lifted Atletico into lead after Diego Costa striped Messi of the ball as he lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Victor Valdes for his 17th league goal this season.

Adriano equalized in the 36th minute and Sergio Busquets gave Barca the lead for good just before the half. Then it was the Argentine superstar who owned the second half, finding the back of the net in the 57th and 88th minutes. Messi leads La Liga with 25 goals.

Real continued to struggle as it allowed Uruguayan striker Juan Albin to scored in the 88th minute after the hosts failed to clear a corner kick to boost lowly Espanyol into the surprising result.

Sergio Garcia had given the visitors a 31st-minute lead, but Cristiano Ronaldo, playing at striker, tied it a minute into first-half stoppage time and Fabio Coentrao tallied three minutes after the interval for Real.

Real coach Jose Mourinho, one of the most confident coaches on the planet, all but conceded the race to Barca.

"It is practically impossible," he told a press conference. "That's too much [of a gap] at this stage. Last year we had a 10-point advantage in February or March and we were able to maintain it.

"I have never been in a situation like this, dropping so many points and with a team so far from its objectives. It's new for me. The league looks impossible to me now, but we have to have the dignity to always try to win."

SPAIN

Alejandro Dominguez


The Argentine midfielder slotted home a penalty kick in the 83rd minute to boost Rayo Vallecano to a 1-0 away win over Valencia.

Willy Caballero

The Argentinean goalkeeper made a vital first-half save in Malaga's 2-0 win over 10-man Sevilla as he parried an Alvaro Negredo shot from point-blank range.

Emiliano Armenteros

It's not always a bed of roses for every Argentine player abroad as Armenteros and his Osasuna teammates discovered in a 1-1 draw at Getafe. Armenteros was red-carded in the 77th minute as Diego Castro converted a penalty kick three minutes into added time for the hosts.

ENGLAND

Sergio Aguero, Javi Garcia, David Villa, Pablo Zabaleta


All three players had roles in Manchester City's goals in a 3-1 win at Newcastle United. Aguero, an Argentinean, put home a Samir Nasri pass in the 10th minute. Spaniards Villa and Garcia combined for the second goal in the 39th minute, as Garcia headed home Silva's corner kick. Zabaleta, an Argentine, created Yaya Toure's goal off a feed on the left flank in the 78th minute.

ITALY

Edinson Cavani


The Uruguayan international tallied in the 69th minute to give Napoli a 2-1 edge over Bologna, but the hosts could not hold the lead, allowing two goals in the final five minutes en route to a 3-2 defeat.

Mario Paglialunga, Gonzalo Bergessi and Lucas Castro

Those three Argentines tallied for Catania in its 3-1 home win over Sampdoria. Mario Paglialunga struck in the 55th minute, Gonzalo Bergessi added a goal 10 minutes later Lucas Castro closed out the scoring in the 90th minute.

David Pizarro

Pizarro, a Chilean, converted a penalty kick for Fiorentina in the 19th minute in its 4-1 home victory over Siena.

Jaime Valdes

Another Chilean put in a penalty, which turned out to be an insurance goal in Parma's 4-1 win over visiting Cagliari. Valdes converted his in the 65th minute.

Freddy Guarin

Guarin, a Colombian, blasted a long-range drive off the post in the 63rd minute of Inter's 1-0 loss at Lazio.

GERMANY

Elkin Soto


The Colombian midfielder added an insurance goal two minutes into stoppage time for Mainz in its 3-1 win over Stuttgart.

Jefferson Farfan

Farfan, a Peruvian, scored the first goal for Schalke 04 in the 20th minute, but his teammates could not hold the lead en route to a 3-1 defeat at Freiburg.

Juan Arango

Better known for scoring goals, the Venezuelan stopped one as he headed Bastian Schweinsteiger's free kick in Borussia Moenchengladbach's 1-1 draw with first-place Bayern Munich. He did not figure in the scoring.

FRANCE

Dario Cvitanich


The Argentine striker connected twice (in the 19th and 47th minutes) -- his eighth and ninth goals this season -- to help Nice overcome a two-goal deficit and to a 3-2 victory over Evian Thonon Gaillard.

Marco Estrada

Estrada, a Chilean, scored off a spectacular 35-yard volley in the 14th minute to start defending champions Montpellier to a 4-0 home win over Bastia.

Lisandro Lopez

The Argentinean standout almost scored for Lyon in its 1-0 loss to Paris St. Germain when his volley hit the woodwork in the 27th minute. "Lisandro's chance could have changed the match but then we played at a very, very high level in the second half," PSG right back Christophe Jallet told French channel Canal+.

Guillermo Ochoa

It was a rough start but it almost turned out to be a a miracle finish for Ochoa and A.C. Ajaccio, which allowed three goals during a 12-minute span in the first half at host ES Troyes. Ajaccio staged an 11th-hour rally, but fell short in a 3-2 defeat. The Mexican international goalkeeper was busiest when Ajaccio was trying to equalize, stopping Mounir Obbadi's drive and parrying Eloge Enza Yamissi's effort.

PORTUGAL

Oscar Cardozo


The Paraguayan registered a 34-minute hat-trick and reached a milestone with three consecutive goals in Benfica's 4-1 triumph over CS Maritimo. Cardozo found the back of the net in the 34th, 65th and 68th minutes, the middle goal a penalty kick. Cardozo became Benfica's first foreign striker to reach 100 league goals.

BELGIUM

Carlos Bacca


Bacca, a Colombian, kick started Club Bruge's 2-0 home win over Mons with a 32nd-minute goal.

AUSTRALIA

Marcelo Carrusca

A brace by the Argentine powered Adelaid United to a 3-1 A-League win past Welling Phoenix. Carrusca fired in a 25-yard free kick in the 19th minute for a 1-0 lead before striking from the edge of the penalty area in the 24th minute.

FIFA CLUB WORLD CUP

Paolo Guerrero


The Peruvian scored in the 69th minute to boost the South American champions Corinthians (Brazil) over Chelsea (England), 1-0, in the championship game. Guerrero headed in the lone goal from close range after Danilo’s shot deflected off the boot of defender Gary Cahill.

Jesus Corona, Cesar Delgado

Corona, a Mexican, Delgado, an Argentinean, scored for Monterrey in a 2-0 win over Al-Ahly (Egypt) in the third-place match. Los Rayados became the first Mexican team since Necaxa to finish third in the competition. Corona tallied in the third minute, Delgado added an insurance goal in the 66th minute.

CARIBBEAN CUP

Marcel Hernandez


The Cuban native scored in the 22nd minute of extra time to lift Cuba to a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago and to its first Caribbean Cup title in St. John's Antigua. Both teams already had qualified for next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup in the U.S.

Michael Lewis, who is the editor of BigAppleSoccer.com and soccer correspondent for Newsday, will be covering his eighth World Cup in Brazil.

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