Football: Ranieri resigns as Messi rescues Barca

PARIS, Feb 20, 2011 (AFP) - A run of four straight losses proved the end of the road for Roma boss Claudio Ranieri, who resigned after Sunday's humiliating 4-3 defeat at Genoa after the visitors had been 3-0 to the good.

"After the final whistle of a vibrant game I went into the changing rooms to thank the team for their performance and I decided to hand in my resignation," Ranieri told Ansa news agency after his club fell to eighth in Serie A.

The loss was made even worse by seeing city rivals Lazio in the fourth Champions League spot for now after seeing off Bari 1-0.

AS Roma's coach Claudio Ranieri looks on during the Italian Serie A football match opposing AS Roma and Genoa at the Marassi stadium in Genoa on February 20, 2011. AFP

Roma at first showed no signs of a hangover from their 3-2 home loss to Shakhtar Dontesk in the Champions League in midweek, which had already drawn fan protests.

They seemed to have turned things around in Genoa when Francesco Totti gave them a 3-0 lead after earlier strikes from centre-backs Philippe Mexes and Nicolas Burdisso.

But they then collapsed as both Rodrigo Palacios and Alberto Paloschi grabbed a brace for Genoa.

AC Milan maintained their grip on top spot after substitute Alexandre Pato scored a late winner to earn them a 2-1 success at 10-man Chievo.

Robinho had given them a controversial first-half lead - appearing to control the ball with his arm - before Gelson Fernandes equalised in the second half.

Milan are three points ahead of Napoli after the latter beat Catania 1-0 and Inter Milan are two points further back after a win by the same margin Saturday over Cagliari.

In Spain, Barcelona made a better fist than Roma of overcoming a Champions League reverse - in their case to Arsenal - as the Catalan club saw talisman Lionel Messi hit a late winner in a 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao.

The win restored Barca's five-point lead over Real Madrid.

Messi and company almost dropped two points when Andoni Iraola's penalty cancelled out David Villa's third-minute opener.

But the Argentine finally bagged his 25th league goal of the season to clinch the points and cheer coach Pep Guardiola, taking charge of his 100th match.

Real had closed to within two points Saturday with a 2-0 win over Levante.

Villarreal missed the chance to close the gap on Champions League rivals Valencia, squandering more points in a 1-1 home draw against basement boys Malaga.

Valencia's 0-0 draw with Sporting Gijon on Saturday meant Villarreal could have gone third with victory, but Uruguayan Sebastian Fernandez scored an 82nd-minute equaliser to cancel out Marco Ruben's first-half opener.

In Germany, Borussia Dortmund, 2-0 winners over St Pauli, are ten points clear of Bayer Leverkusen with reigning champions Bayern Munich three further adrift.

"The team kept their concentration and were very disciplined," said Dortmund coach as his side picked up their first win of the month after drawing their previous two games.

Leverkusen have not given up hope, though, after beating strugglers VfB Stuttgart 4-2.

Bayern won 3-1 at Mainz, league top scorer Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller on target as the Bavarians warmed up for a Champions League last 16 meeting with holders Inter Milan.

In France, leaders Lille saw their 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions come to an abrupt end on Sunday as they lost 1-0 at Montpellier.

Moroccan attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda claimed the game's only goal in the 84th minute to breathe new life into the title race.

Rennes won 2-1 at Toulouse to close to within two points of Lille, while fellow title contenders Marseille, Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain are now all within four points of the leaders.

Defending champions Marseille are third after a 2-1 win at home to Saint-Etienne - though that was overshadowed by an injury to striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who will miss Wednesday's Champions League match against Manchester United.

Lyon warmed up for Tuesday's visit of Real Madrid by thrashing Nancy 4-0.

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