Marvellous Messi hits hat trick

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their fourth goal to complete his hat trick in La Liga Santander match against Real Betis at Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville, Sunday. — Reuters

SEVILLE, Spain — Lionel Messi was lauded by opposition supporters Sunday after he scored an outstanding hat trick in Barcelona’s 4-1 win at Real Betis, which put the Catalans 10 points clear at the top of La Liga with 10 games remaining.

With Barca’s nearest challenger Atletico Madrid falling to a 2-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao the previous day, Messi got Barca off to an ideal start by drilling a free kick into the top corner of the net in the 18th minute.

The Argentine put Barca further at ease with another strike at the end of the first half, finishing off a backheeled pass from Luis Suarez as the two South American forwards carved their way through Betis’s defense.

Uruguay forward Suarez had missed several clear chances to score but he finally got his reward for a lively performance with a goal in the 63rd minute, dancing past four Betis players on a dazzling run which began in his own half.

Loren Moron pulled one back for Betis in the 82nd minute but Messi replied with a sumptuous first-time lob in off the crossbar to complete his treble and the Betis supporters responded by chanting the Argentine’s name and bowing down to him.

It was an utterly dominant performance from the La Liga leader which avenged its 4-3 loss at home to Betis in November and took it on to 66 points after 28 games, while Atletico has 56 and third-placed Real Madrid 54.

PSG downs rival Marseille

Angel Di Maria scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain eased to a 3-1 victory over Marseille Sunday to extend its long unbeaten run against its arch rival and move 20 points clear at the Ligue 1 summit.

A group of PSG ultras were boycotting the opening stages of the game over the team’s shock Champions League defeat by Manchester United, but when they arrived they were given a 16th win in 19 meetings with Marseille, alongside three draws, to cheer.

Kylian Mbappe put PSG in front on the stroke of half-time with his 26th league goal of the season, but Valere Germain equalized in the first minute of the second period.

Inter edges Milan

Inter Milan moved above city rival AC Milan into third place in Serie A with an exhilarating 3-2 derby victory at San Siro that ended a five-match winning run for Gennaro Gattuso’s hosts.

Matias Vecino’s goal gave the Nerazzurri a deserved halftime lead before Stefan De Vrij and Lautaro Martinez, with a penalty, struck after the break, while goals from Milan’s Tiemoue Bakayoko and Mateo Musacchio kept the Rossoneri in the game.

Inter coach Luciano Spalletti was facing increasing pressure after his side was knocked out of the Europa League in the last 16 by Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.

However, he was left delighted as his team stretched its unbeaten Milan derby run to six games, their best spell since 1999, and moved to 53 points, two clear of fourth-placed Milan. — Agencies