(MENAFN - Saudi Press Agency)
Barcelona, Jumada II 14, 1439, March 02, 2018, SPA -- A controversial Jonathan Calleri penalty handed Las Palmas a 1-1 draw against Barcelona on Thursday in La Liga, leaving the leaders just five points clear of Atletico Madrid, reported the dpa.
Lionel Messi scored a blistering free-kick in the 21st minute but three minutes into the second half referee Mateu Lahoz awarded a penalty when the ball hit Lucas Digne's hand after bouncing back off the post.
Former West Ham striker Calleri dispatched it brilliantly and Barcelona failed to force their way back ahead.
The draw gives Las Palmas, 18th, a potentially crucial point in their battle against relegation, while it leaves Barcelona vulnerable ahead of their clash with Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Barcelona have now drawn three of their last five league games and their shaky form has opened up the title race.
Although the Catalans remain unbeaten after 26 league games, they have suffered disappointing results against Espanyol, Getafe and now Las Palmas.
"The goal from the penalty spot did us damage," said Valverde. "We have seen that we drew thanks to an invisible penalty. They came out stronger and it worried us.
"We lacked a bit of precision with the final ball, with the final decision." Valverde picked Luis Suarez up front despite the possibility the forward could earn his fifth yellow card of the season and be suspended against Atletico on Sunday, and the Uruguayan missed an early chance after he and Messi broke through on goal.
Messi's dribbling caused the hosts frequent problems and four Las Palmas players were booked for fouls on the Argentine.
After Dani Castellano dragged Messi to the floor the Argentine made him pay by sending a scorching effort into the top corner from the resulting free-kick.
Just before half-time Las Palmas goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola handled the ball 10 yards outside his area, but referee Lahoz did not punish him.
However shortly after the restart he did point to the spot harshly when the ball struck Digne, who could do nothing about it.
Calleri hammered the penalty into the top corner to earn his team a draw.
"I don't want to analyse the referee," added Valverde. "In the break I spoke with him about the clear handball from the goalkeeper outside the area. I still don't know what he gave the penalty for." Elsewhere Real Betis drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad and Victor Laguardia's 90th minute gave Alaves a 1-0 win over Levante, with both sides having a man sent off.
Levante, 17th, have not won for 14 matches and hover just one point above the relegation zone.
02:39 LOCAL TIME 23:39 GMT