MADRID - Lionel Messi lost his World Player of the Year crown to Cristiano Ronaldo but got sweet revenge on Sunday by upstaging the Portuguese forward in his own backyard with a hat-trick that fired Barcelona to a 4-3 victory over Real Madrid.
Messi, World Player four times in a row before Ronaldo scooped his second award, levelled an action-packed 'Clasico' at 2-2 just before halftime with an opportunistic strike through a crowd of Real defenders.
He then kept his cool at a bubbling Bernabeu to net two second-half penalties, including the winner six minutes from time, blowing the Spanish title race wide open.
The defeat left Real, who had captain Sergio Ramos sent off midway through the second half, and city neighbours Atletico Madrid tied at the top on 70 points.
Barca, chasing a fifth title in six years, closed the gap to one point and sit third with nine games left.
"It was an extremely important win for us," Messi, who missed two months of the season with a thigh injury but has been in scintillating form since his return in January, told reporters.
"It was a brilliant game for the fans and for us," added the 26-year-old Argentine. "This team always responds on the big occasions but we have to continue.
"We cannot be satisfied with this win. We have to forget what happened quickly and focus on the future."
Messi's treble put him clear in the list of top scorers in the 'Clasico' on 21 goals, three ahead of Real great Alfredo Di Stefano.
He also moved up to second in the ranking of all-time leading La Liga marksman on 236 goals, two ahead of former Real striker Hugo Sanchez, and he is fast closing in on record scorer Telmo Zarra, who netted 251.
Messi was quick to downplay his personal achievements and keep the focus on the team.
"The most important thing is that we won the match," Messi said. "Things are going well for me individually but what we should remember is the great performance of the group.
"We are closer to the leaders. We have to keep this up until the last match. There are very few games left and we cannot afford any more mistakes."