Raphinha leads Barcelona win over Las Palmas to stay in touch with Real Madrid

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Raphinha helped to reduce Las Palmas to 10 men before scoring to lead Barcelona to a 1-0 victory in the Spanish league on Saturday.

The Brazil winger was racing clear behind the defensive line when Las Palmas goalkeeper Álvaro Vallés raced out of his area and crashed into him, earning a direct red card in the 24th minute.

Las Palmas bunkered down in its area until Raphinha broke through in the 59th when he headed in a perfectly floated pass by substitute João Félix.

“These are three important points. We will keep fighting until the end and won’t give up until the league is over,” Raphinha said about the defending champion’s chances of overtaking Real Madrid.

Second-placed Barcelona closed to within five points of leader Real Madrid before it hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. The Spanish powerhouses will meet in the capital in three weeks after the Champions League quarterfinals, where Barcelona faces Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid faces Manchester City.

Félix had a great chance to add to the lead when Jules Koundé found him all alone at the far post, only for the Portugal forward to send his shot off the crossbar.

Despite being down a man, Alberto Moleiro almost equalized for the Canary Islands club in the final minutes when he hit the side netting.

“We have done our homework today and got the three points we needed to stay in the fight,” coach Xavi Hernández said after watching the game from the stands while he serves a two-game suspension for protesting.

Since Xavi said he would not continue next season after a series of painful losses, Barcelona has improved — above all in defense — and gone unbeaten in 11 straight across all competitions.

Xavi said he hoped the decision would spark a reaction in his team. Raphinha said after Saturday’s game that the turnaround was due to the players “talking about things internally and about what we needed to do to get wins.”

Xavi and his players have 11 days to prepare for PSG.

With the league taking a break next weekend for the Copa del Rey final, Barcelona won’t play again until the opening leg of its matchup against PSG on April 10.

Barcelona’s Ferran Torres returned as a second-half substitute for his first minutes since he injured his right thigh in late January.

BUDIMIR CATCHES JUDE

Osasuna striker Ante Budimir scored his 16th league goal of the season to pull level with Madrid’s Jude Bellingham as the competition leading scorers. Budimir helped to secure a 3-0 win at last-placed Almeria.

The Croatia international made it 2-0 for Osasuna after an error by Almeria goalkeeper Luis Maximiano. The goalie tried to impede the concession of a corner kick when he slid to stop the ball from crossing the endline, only to inadvertently pass it to an Osasuna player who easily set up Budimir to score into an open net.

Budimir is having the best season of his career and has netted six times in his last seven games. He next best season was for Mallorca in 2019-20 when he scored 13 times.

Bellingham returns on Sunday from a two-game suspension.

RACIST INSULTS

Sevilla’s 1-0 win at Getafe was marred by racist insults by fans targeting Sevilla defender Marcos Acuña and coach Quique Sánchez Flores.

Referee Javier Iglesias halted the game briefly when Acuña was insulted by fans in the 68th. Sánchez Flores, who has coached Getafe at three different times, said after the match his Roma heritage was insulted.

“We are workers who come here to work in peace and be respected,” Sánchez Flores said. “It is an aberration that in these times when we are advancing in so many ways that (these individuals) grab us and pull us backwards.”

Sergio Ramos scored the fifth-minute winner.

MALLORCA PREPARES FINAL

Mallorca drew at Valencia 0-0 a week before it faces Athletic in the Copa del Rey final.

Javier Aguirre’s side, which relies on its defense, has kept three clean sheets in its last four games.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer



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