MADRID: Goals from Philip Cocu and Xavi Hernandez in the space of less than two minutes at the end of the first half gave Barcelona a vital 2-0 victory at local rivals Espanyol on Saturday.
Before the match, Barca were lying down 15th in the Spanish First Division, the lowest point in their history, and had not won in their previous five outings.
The win fulfilled the prophecy, at least temporarily, of new coach Radomir Antic who took over two weeks ago and had promised to bring a smile back to the faces of the fans and players of the crisis-sticken Catalan club.
“I can only see – and say – positive things about this match,” said the ever-optimistic Antic.
“This will boost our spirits prior to the Champions League on Tuesday,” added the Serb.
Barcelona took the game to Espanyol from the outset and had several chances before Cocu, unusually wearing the captain's armband, broke the deadlock in the 40th minute.
Xavi sent a long-range free kick into the box and Cocu's glancing header looped over the wall of Espanyol defenders before bouncing past an unsighted Toni Jimenez in the Espanyol goal.
Less than two minutes later, it was Xavi himself who got on the scoresheet, the Spanish international midfielder finishing off a fast counter-attack initiated by Patrick Kluivert and continued by Javier Saviola.
“In the first half, we did everything we should. The players went close to perfection. But I think it was normal that we eased up a bit after going two-up,” said Antic, in response to quesions about Barca's less-than-impressive second half.
Meanwhile, Valencia kept up the pressure on the top two – leaders Real Sociedad and Real Madrid – with a 2-0 win over Malaga, a result which extended their unbeaten streak to six games. The reigning Spanish champions remain in third on 42 points but only on goal difference. – AFP