- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Lionel Messi scored in his 500th match for Barcelona to help them ease past Real Betis 4-0 on Wednesday and ensure they kept the lead of the Spanish league to conclude a superb year for the Catalan club.

Barcelona broke a run of consecutive draws in the league to cap one of its best years in club history. Before kickoff Andres Iniesta paraded its recently won Club World Cup trophy, its fifth title won in 2015. The four goals scored took its year’s tally to 180, bettering Madrid’s milestone of 178 from 2014.

“It was a spectacular year and we wanted to finish it in the same way,” Messi said. “It will be complicated to better this, but like always we will try to do so.”

Messi recovered from a hard knock with Antonio Adan that was ruled a penalty against the Betis goalkeeper, by scoring Barcelona’s second goal, after an own goal put the Catalan side on its way.

“It was a strange game. I don’t know if it was a penalty or not, when I was hit I didn’t realize what had happened,” Messi said about the collision with Adan that left him on the ground and momentarily silenced the Camp Nou.

While Messi was being examined by team doctors, Neymar stepped up to take the penalty, only to send his shot off the crossbar. Betis defender Heiko Westermann disputed the rebound with two Barcelona players, but he ended up batting it into his own net just before the half-hour mark.

Three minutes later, Messi played Neymar through with a long pass that he returned for the club’s all-time leading scorer to notch his 425th club goal.

Betis coach Pepe Mel was sent off for protesting moments later, and his team never showed signs of mounting a comeback.

Luis Suarez scored twice after halftime to take over from Neymar as the competition’s leading scorer with 15, and only the woodwork - which Messi, Neymar, and Dani Alves all hit in the second half - saved Betis from an even bigger loss.

With a game still to play, Luis Enrique’s team leads La Liga on goal difference from Atletico Madrid, which scored twice in the final four minutes to win 2-0 at crosstown rival Rayo Vallecano.

Angel Correa finished off a flowing buildup engineered by fellow substitute Thomas Partey to break the deadlock in the 87th, and Antoine Griezmann struck again in the 90th.

Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid remain two points behind the pacesetters after he missed one penalty before converting a second spot kick and adding another goal to lead a 3-1 win over injury-ravaged Real Sociedad.

The win took some pressure off beleaguered coach Rafa Benitez, who was jeered by some of the Santiago Bernabeu crowd for Madrid’s erratic form this season when his name was announced before the match.

“(Ronaldo) accepted the responsibility after the missed penalty and put the team on his back,” Benitez said.

Both Sociedad midfielder Sergio Canales and team top-scorer Imanol Agirretxe were carried off on stretchers in the first half.

Preliminary tests showed Canales, who has twice torn ligaments in his right knee, tore ligaments in his left knee.

Madrid started strong and was kept from an early goal only by the goalkeeping of Geronimo Rulli, who made three saves before Ronaldo wasted his first chance from the penalty spot. Sociedad’s Yuri Berchiche was whistled for a foul after light contact with Karim Benzema in the area, but Ronaldo blasted his shot well over the bar.

Ronaldo didn’t miss on his second opportunity before the interval, after a pass hit Berichiche’s leg before ricocheting off his arm on the edge of the box.

Sociedad substitute Bruma made it 1-1 when he curled a strike just inside the far post four minutes after the break. The winger continued to cause Madrid trouble until Ronaldo latched onto Marcelo’s corner kick and threaded a low volley through the crowded area an hour in for his 14th league goal.

Substitute Lucas Vazquez rounded off Madrid’s win.

Also, Raul Garcia gave Athletic Bilbao a 1-0 win over fourth-place Celta Vigo, while fifth-place Deportivo La Coruna drew 0-0 at Getafe.

Malaga left Levante in last place with a 1-0 win, Sevilla downed Espanyol 2-0, Las Palmas routed Granada 4-1, and Eibar defeated Sporting Gijon 2-0.

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