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Messi double saves Barca
Tim Hanlon
07:21 AEST Mon Aug 27 2012

Lionel Messi has struck a late brace to give Barcelona a 2-1 win over 10-man Osasuna to take them to the top of the Spanish football league.

Barca appeared set for their first Liga defeat under coach Tito Vilanova, who was sent from the dug-out for complaining to the referee, before Messi came to the rescue on Sunday.

Osasuna was the scene of a Barca defeat last season that helped to turn the title race against them and they went behind this time after a 17th-minute goal from Joseba Llorente.

After the visitors missed a hatful of opportunities, the game appeared to be going against them until Messi rose to the occasion with strikes in the 75th and 80th minutes.

Osasuna's Francisco Punal was red-carded by the referee for protesting about the Argentine's first strike, as he felt he was offside.

Victory provisionally took Barcelona top of the early-season standings, above Rayo Vallecano on goal difference.

Barca turn their attention to the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday, when they face Real Madrid at the Bernabeu with a 3-2 lead.

Madrid play derby rivals Getafe later on Sunday after drawing 1-1 at home to Valencia in their opening game.

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes prevented Osasuna taking the lead inside the first minute as he palmed away a close-range effort from Alvaro Cejudo, who had easily skipped past Gerard Pique.

Then, at the other end, Andres Fernandez dropped down well to claw away a shot from Alexis Sanchez.

Osasuna, who lost at Deportivo La Coruna last weekend, aimed to hustle Barca out of their stride but the Catalans began to find openings, with Andres Iniesta firing over and Cristian Tello hitting the post from 25 metres.

However, it was with the visitors in the ascendancy that Osasuna snatched the lead on the break.

Roland Lamah sent a deep cross from the left wing that found Llorente - on loan from Real Sociedad - and he squeezed the ball in at the far post.

Messi and Iniesta failed to convert further chances before the break.

Messi, however, popped up with two goals in the last 15 minutes to rescue them, first touching in a Sanchez cross and then finishing clinically with his left foot.

Also on Sunday, Granada face Sevilla and Valencia entertain Deportivo.