La Liga - Barca stunned by minnows

Reuters - Sat, 11 Sep 19:05:00 2010

Champions Barcelona suffered a humiliating 2-0 home defeat to Hercules on Saturday when Nelson Valdez struck twice to give the tiny promoted club a shock La Liga victory at a stunned Nou Camp.

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Barca had not lost at home in the league since May 2009 when they went down 1-0 to Osasuna having already secured the title but Paraguay striker Valdez scored either side of halftime to help Alicante-based Hercules pull off one of the biggest giantkilling acts of recent seasons.

Pep Guardiola's side, whose sole defeat last season came at Atletico Madrid, looked surprisingly toothless even with Argentina forward Lionel Messi and World Cup-winners David Villa and Andres Iniesta in the side.

Hercules have an annual budget of around a tenth of the roughly 350 million Barca command but Guardiola's decision to leave players including Xavi, Pedro, Sergio Busquets and Carles Puyol on the bench backfired badly.

In glorious sunshine in the Catalan capital, the home side seized early control but were rocked when Valdez scrambled the ball over the head of goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the 27th minute.

Guardiola threw Xavi and Pedro into the fray after the break but Hercules doubled their lead just before the hour when Valdez, who joined from Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund in the close season, swept a Tiago Gomes cross high into the net.

Messi, Villa and Pedro and defender Gerard Pique all went close for Barca but the Hercules defence held firm, with keeper Juan Calatayud in sparkling form.

David Trezeguet should have made it three for the visitors in the 89th minute when he had the goal at his mercy but Valdes scrambled across to brilliantly deny the former Juventus striker.

After more than a decade in the second division, Hercules had their pre-season preparations clouded by allegations of match fixing, although the club denied any wrongdoing.

Taped conversations, collected by a judge as part of a separate investigation in Alicante, were widely reported in local media, allegedly suggesting the club tried to influence the outcome of second-division matches last season.

Barca now need to pick themselves up for Tuesday's Champions League clash at home to Greek club Panathinaikos.

Valencia beat Racing Santander 1-0 at the Mestalla with a goal from Hedwiges Maduro.

ALmost on the stroke of half-time, Maduro was at the far post to steer Juan Mata's effort from a corner into the net past Racing keeper Tono. The goal was only the Dtuch defender's second in La Liga in his third season at Los Che.

The win over the Cantabrian side means Valencia have won both of their opening two league matches, putting them top of the table.


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