- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Barcelona left it late - very late - but finally rescued its season by pulling off five straight victories to clinch its second straight Spanish league title on Saturday.

There was as much relief as joy when Barcelona defeated Granada 3-0 in the last round, with a hat trick by league top scorer Luis Suarez. That meant Barcelona finished one point ahead of Real Madrid, which fell short despite winning its last 12 league games.

Barcelona avoided what would have been a disastrous title loss after it led fierce rival Madrid by 12 points with nine rounds to go.

“We had to work really hard and suffered until the end,” said Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, who now has eight Spanish league titles along with Lionel Messi and former player Xavi Hernandez. “We struggled a bit after we opened a very good advantage, but in the end it’s the most regular team that wins the league.”

Madrid defeated Deportivo 2-0 on Saturday with two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, but it needed Barcelona to stumble in order to clinch its first title since 2012.

After the final whistle in Granada, Barcelona players formed a circle near the benches and jumped up and down while chanting “Campeones, Campeones.”

Several hundred fans from both teams came onto the pitch as players struggled to find their way off.

Thousands of Barcelona fans gathered in the city to celebrate, although the club said the official parade will take place on Sunday evening.

Barcelona, which finished with 91 points, has won six of the last eight Spanish league titles, and eight of the last 12. It has 24 titles in total, eight less than Real Madrid, the league’s most successful club.

“Six titles in eight seasons says a lot about this generation,” Iniesta said.

Saturday’s win guaranteed that Barcelona will win at least one trophy in a season in which it started brilliantly but struggled at the end. The team’s hopes of repeating its treble from a year ago ended when it was eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. It can still win the Copa del Rey in next weekend’s final against Sevilla.

“It is a well-deserved title,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “The league is a tournament that rewards regularity, and we were in the lead for several weeks, playing very good football.”

Third-placed Atletico, which challenged Barcelona for most of the season, dropped out of contention after a surprise loss to last-place Levante in the previous round.

Real Madrid and Atletico will still play the Champions League final on May 28 in Milan.

Barcelona didn’t have any trouble securing its victory at Granada, which had already escaped relegation and had little to play for in the final round.

Suarez opened the scoring from close range in the 22nd minute after a pass by Jordi Alba, added to the lead with a header in the 38th off a cross by Dani Alves, and netted his third after a set up by Neymar inside the area in the 86th.

Suarez, who has scored 14 goals in the last five games, finished the league as the top scorer with 40 goals, five more than Ronaldo. Lionel Messi was third with 26.

Ronaldo scored in the seventh and 25th minutes to leave Madrid optimistic in La Coruna, but as Barcelona increased its lead in Granada, it became clear that Zinedine Zidane’s team would fall short of the title.

“We are all disappointed,” Zidane said. “But we did what we had to do. I’m proud of this team, the players fought until the end.”

There was a moment of silence before the match in La Coruna in memory of Madrid fans who died in an attack in Iraq on Friday.

Madrid has won the league only once in the last eight seasons.

It was the eighth occasion that Barcelona and Madrid had arrived at the final round fighting each other for the title, with Barcelona winning seven times.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

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