SEVILLE (Reuters) – A stoppage-time goal from defender Jordi Alba earned Barcelona a 2-1 LaLiga win at Real Betis on Saturday, securing Xavi Hernandez’s side Champions League qualification and edging them closer to a spot at the lucrative Spanish Super Cup finals.
Alba received a precise pass from Dani Alves in the final seconds of the game and lashed the ball past goalkeeper Rui Silva with a superbly-taken, first-time volley.
With the league title already sealed by Real Madrid, Barcelona are now second on 69 points in the standings, five points clear of Sevilla in third and eight ahead of Atletico Madrid in fourth, both with one game in hand.
“We have taken a weight off our shoulders. It could have been a more complicated and difficult season,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez told reporters.
“It is clear that we have to play better. We have to analyse it, but we have made a titanic effort from November until now.
“We will be in the Champions League, the competition we deserve. Now we want to be second (in the league).”
Betis forward Juanmi had the first sight of goal in an entertaining match, but his effort could only find the side-netting in the seventh minute.
Ten minutes later Manuel Pellegrini’s side lost goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to injury as he hurt himself stretching to reach for the ball and was replaced by Rui Silva.
The Portuguese substitute, however, produced an excellent display, starting with a superb save from Ronald Araujo’s bullet header minutes after entering the pitch.
Betis created more opportunities in a lively first half, but substitute Ansu Fati put the visitors ahead after the break with a low shot towards the left corner in the 76th minute.
Barca’s lead did not last long, as three minutes later former Barcelona defender Marc Bartra levelled for the Copa del Rey champions with a header.
But Alba sealed the game in the dying minutes.
“They were two great goals,” Xavi added. “Ansu makes a difference…
“The second goal was earned. It’s a great goal, the cross, the finish… we worked on it yesterday. We knew that they stop on the edge of the box. When what you worked on works, it’s the best feeling.”
Barcelona, who have won 10 of their last 12 league matches, are close to wrapping up second place and snatching the 3.4 million euros that the club would make by going to the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Both Copa del Rey finalists — winners Betis and runners-up Valencia — will be joined in the 2023 Spanish Super Cup finals by the top two teams in the LaLiga standings.
Betis, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to move level on points with fourth-placed Atletico in their bid to secure a spot in Champions League next season, as they remain fifth with 58 points.
Before the match, Barcelona gave a guard of honour to the Betis players for their cup victory last month.
(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Toby Davis)