By Stephen Mackey MADRID, Spain, AP
Lionel Messi scored his third goal of the game in injury time to rally FC Barcelona to a 3-3 draw with rival Real Madrid in the Spanish league on Saturday.
The teenage forward received Ronaldinho’s pass before darting through the defense and firing a low, angled left-footed shot past Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas to put the defending champion atop the standings at least for the day.
Both sides scored twice in the opening 28 minutes at Camp Nou, with Ruud van Nistelrooy accounting for both of Madrid’s goals, one from a penalty.
Defender Sergio Ramos gave Madrid a 3-2 lead in the 73rd minute.
Barcelona played with 10 men after defender Oleguer Presas was ejected in 45th minute and appeared headed for a third straight defeat. The Catalan team lost to Sevilla last weekend and then was eliminated from the European Champions League by Liverpool on Tuesday.
“I was given a lot of space by my teammates. I tried to take advantage and today it worked out. It was a very special match,” Messi told La Sexta TV station. “Madrid benefitted from having an extra player. If it hadn’t, the game would have been very different.”
Madrid’s performance likely will ease the criticism of coach Fabio Capello, whose tenure came under additional scrutiny after it was eliminated from the Champions League by Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Barcelona climbed atop the table on goal difference, but Sevilla can reclaim the lead when it plays Gimnastic Tarragona on Sunday.
Barcelona and Sevilla have 50 points, Valencia has 46, and Madrid 45.
Also, on Sunday it’s: Osasuna vs. Valencia; Real Sociedad vs. Mallorca; Real Betis vs. Zaragoza; Getafe vs. Recreativo Huelva; Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao; Racing Santander vs. Espanyol; and Atletico Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna.
Earlier, Villarreal beat struggling Levante 2-0.
In Barcelona, both teams started quickly.
Van Nistelrooy put Madrid ahead in the fifth minute after a weak pass by teammate Gonzalo Higuain was deflected into his path by Barcelona defender Lilian Thuram. The striker sidefooted the ball home from the edge of the area.
Barcelona replied six minutes later when Messi steered an angled shot past Casillas after a an exchange of passes between Samuel Eto’o and Xavi Hernandez.
Madrid reclaimed the lead on a penalty, after Oleguer tripped Jose Maria “Guti” Gutierrez, who was making his 300th league appearance for Madrid. It was Van Nistelrooy’s 14th goal of the season.
Messi equalized a second time, hitting a left-footed volley into the roof of the net from the rebound after Casillas blocked a close-range shot by Ronaldinho.
Oleguer, who received his first yellow card when he conceded the penalty, then went off for his second for a foul on midfielder Fernando Gago.
Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard reacted to Oleguer’s dismissal by replacing Eto’o at halftime him with defender Sylvinho.
Madrid, which swapped captain Raul for Robinho after an hour, used its numerical advantage to dominate the second half. Van Nistelrooy had several chances before Ramos scored with a backward header from Guti’s floated free kick.
The game was briefly halted in the 82nd minute when a spectator invaded the field brandishing a white shirt.
Madrid played without David Beckham, who strained knee ligaments last week and missed the chance to face Barcelona for the final time before he leaves for the Los Angeles Galaxy in August. Also absent were defender Fabio Cannavaro and left back Roberto Carlos, who announced Friday he also was leaving Madrid at the end of the season.
Elswhere, striker Diego Forlan’s curling shot from beyond the penalty area flew just inside Levante goalkeeper Jose Francisco Molina’s left post to give Villarreal a ninth-minute lead.
Jon Dahl Tomasson doubled the advantage when he seized on a through pass by midfielder Matias Fernandez to shoot under Molina’s legs in the 72nd. The goal was the Denmark striker’s third since joining Villarreal on loan from Stuttgart in January.
Villarreal’s win at Levante’s Ciutat de Valencia stadium was its second in six games, lifting last season’s Champions League semifinalist into 11th place, with 30 points from 26 matches.
Levante remained in 16th place with 27 points, two above the relegation zone. The Valencia-based team had initially improved under coach Abel Resino but has lost its last two matches.