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Sporting briefs

Messi: Lionel Messi struck twice as leaders Barcelona survived a second-half spell of pressure at Mallorca to win 4-2 and strengthen their position at the top of La Liga yesterday. Xavi Hernandez, Messi and Cristian Tello got first-half goals for the Catalans before Victor Casadesus and Michael Pereira reduced the lead after the interval. Messi then hit his 15th in the league to wrap up the game and make it 76 goals now in 2012, beating Pele’s tally of 75 from 1958 and taking him to within nine of Gerd Muller’s all time record total of 85 set in 1972.

Evans: Northern Ireland have lost influential defender Jonny Evans for the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on Wednesday. Evans (groin) is one of Michael O’Neill’s most important players and was one of the top performers in the side’s memorable 1-1 draw in Portugal last month.

Poppy boycott: Sunderland winger James McClean’s decision not to wear a remembrance poppy to commemorate war dead was a personal choice. The Republic of Ireland international, who was born in Northern Ireland, played in his side’s 2-1 loss at Everton in the Premier League on Saturday but elected not to wear a shirt with a poppy motif, as his team-mates did. McClean’s decision sparked a heated debate on Twitter and Sunderland were forced to reveal that the decision was made solely by the player.

Solskjaer: Ole Gunnar Sols-kjaer’s Molde retained the Norwegian title yesterday as substitute Daniel Chukwu’s header gave them a 1-0 victory over Honefoss and Stromsgodset suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Sandnes Ulf. The victory over Honefoss gave Molde 59 points and an unassailable four-point lead over Stromsgodset with one match to play.

Nzonzi: Stoke City defensive midfielder Steven Nzonzi has turned down an invitation to play international soccer for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nzonzi, who has played for France at U-21 level, received a call-up for a friendly international against fellow African Nations Cup finalists Burkina Faso in Morocco but he and Grandi Ngoyi, from Ligue 1 club Troyes, declined despite discussions with coach Claude Le Roy.

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