Lionel Messi collects 600th career goal after curling free kick around Atletico wall



Associated Press

Lionel Messi scored his 600th career goal from a free kick as Barcelona beat second-place Atletico Madrid 1-0 this morning to increase its lead at the top of the Spanish league to eight points.

Messi dipped a shot over the wall in the 26th minute to take his league-leading tally to 24 this season and 32 in all competitions.

It was Messi's sixth goal from a free kick this season, and his third straight with successful free kicks against Girona and Las Palmas.

Barcelona remained undefeated after 27 rounds and dealt Atletico just its second defeat in the league this season.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone said the league was Barcelona's to win.

"The numbers are what they are. Barcelona wouldn't normally lose four or five games in what they have left," Simeone said. "But this is football, and we have to go out there to win the next match and think about how we can continue to improve."

Ernesto Valverde's side now has a comfortable lead with 11 rounds remaining and Barcelona can focus on its round-of-16 second leg match in the Champions League against Chelsea on March 14. Barcelona drew 1-1 in the away leg at Stamford Bridge.

It was not all positive for the Catalan leaders, however, with midfielder Andres Iniesta substituted in the first half due to a hamstring injury in his right leg.

Atletico entered the match with the best defense in La Liga with only 11 goals previously conceded.

But after an early stretch when Atletico neutralized host Barcelona's ball possession, Messi broke through with a perfectly stroked free kick that he set up by earning a foul from Thomas Partey.

Messi's curling left-footed strike gave Jan Oblak little chance. The Atletico goalkeeper got his fingertips to the ball, but it was not nearly enough to keep it from going in.

"There is no player like Messi in the world," Valverde said. "Obviously there are several matches left, but we have taken a step forward."

Messi has scored 539 goals for Barcelona and 61 for Argentina.

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