Rival fans applaud as brilliant Messi scores 3 for Barcelona
ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 18, 2019 06:54 AM
Barcelona's Messi, second left, celebrates after scoring with teammate Aleix Vidal, left, and Suarez during La Liga soccer match between Betis and Barcelona at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
By Joseph Wilson, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi scored a hat trick with his brilliant third goal applauded by opposition fans as Barcelona beat Real Betis 4-1 to open up a commanding 10-point lead of the Spanish league on Sunday.
Messi struck with a powerful free kick in the 17th minute. He added a second goal just before halftime from a pass by Luis Suarez, who added a third goal at the Benito Villamarin Stadium.
But Messi saved his best for late after Betis substitute Loren Moron had pulled one back for the hosts. Barcelona's all-time leading scorer used one touch of his left boot to float the ball from the left side of the box over goalkeeper Pau Lopez, with his shot grazing the underside of the bar before going in, triggering applause from fans of both teams.
Messi, who also hit the post just before the final whistle, leads the Spanish league with 29 goals and has scored 39 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions this season.
Barcelona's last league loss was 4-3 at home to Betis in November. It is now undefeated in 16 rounds and is on course to successfully defend its league title after taking full advantage of second-placed Atletico Madrid's 2-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
Ernesto Valverde's team has also reached the final of the Copa del Rey— a competition it has won four years in a row— and will face Manchester United in the quarterfinals of the Champions League next month.