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3-min read

La Liga: Ronaldo brace guides Real to easy win

Real's win keeps them five points clear of second-placed Barcelona.

test sharma | Agencies

Updated:January 23, 2012, 8:25 AM IST
La Liga: Ronaldo brace guides Real to easy win
Real's win keeps them five points clear of second-placed Barcelona.

Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties to lead Real Madrid to a 4-1 comeback victory over 10-man Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, keeping the Spanish leader five points clear despite Barcelona's 4-1 win at Malaga that featured a hat-trick from Lionel Messi.

A youthful Bilbao went ahead through Fernando Llorente's 13th-minute opener in an electric start for the Basques at Santiago Bernabeu stadium, before Marcelo charged into the area to level for Real in the 25th.

Ronaldo stroked home a pair of spot-kicks in the second half and Jose Callejon added a late goal to secure the hosts a much-needed win following their mid-week 2-1 home loss to Barcelona.

That defeat led the disgruntled crowd to jeer Real coach Jose Mourinho throughout Sunday's game, the first public outcry against the Portuguese since his arrival in 2010.

"In the first half we committed a lot of defensive errors because of our opponent," said Mourinho. "But even when losing 1-0 the team kept playing well, and in the second half our defensive errors dropped and we eventually won easily."

Barcelona hold a 2-1 lead and host Real on Wednesday in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, but Real defender Marcelo isn't giving up.

"You can expect Real to fight to the finish," he said.

Mourinho, whose tactics against Barcelona have been questioned, made a number of changes to the defensive side that lost to Real's fierce rivals. He gave rare starts to Kaka, midfielder Esteban Granero and brought back playmaker Mesut Oezil and Marcelo to match Bilbao's attack-minded starting 11.

One of the players Mourinho left on the bench was Pepe following four days of heavy criticism toward the defender for stomping on Messi against Barcelona.

As billed, the match against Bilbao was an up-and-down affair. The Basque visitors had, however, been in excellent form of late, and set about taking the game to the home side from the off. Indeed, it was no surprise when they took an early lead courtesy of Llorente.

Llorente finished a lightening-fast attack after Ander Herrera had played the ball wide to Javi Martinez, who sent a perfect cross to the far post for the Spain striker to bang in a left-footed volley.

The Bernabeu audience was not impressed, but Madrid continued to be subdued. Iker Muniain found space on the edge of the area, and his low effort could only be parried by Iker Casillas into the path of Oscar De Marcos, but the wide player scuffed his close-range effort wide of the target.

But the open flow of the contest quickly led to Marcelo's leveller. The Brazil defender strung together a pair of one-two passes with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to penetrate the heart of the defence and fire into the net.

But the inevitable comeback from the hosts failed to transpire in the first half, and Bilbao should have entered the break in front. Llorente, who had finished so confidently earlier, this time skewed his shot wide of goal when one-on-one with Casillas.

However, normal service was resumed in the second period. Ronaldo put Real in front from the penalty spot two minutes after the break, when Ander Iturraspe tugged Kaka down in the box. The Portugal forward then gave Real the cushion they needed in the 67th after Oscar de Marcos was shown a direct red for fouling Oezil in front of goal.

Ronaldo's double took his league-high to 23 goals, one more than Messi's total.

"Until the time of the sending off we played on level terms with them," Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa said. "With one man less it made it more difficult for us to defend and to attack, too."

Jose Mourinho's side were far from their best for long spells of the match, but now with a man advantage and having beaten Bilbao 5-1 in their last two clashes at the Bernabeu, they set about attempting to record a similar scoreline.

Gonzalo Higuain replaced Karim Benzema, and immediately smashed in a volley that Iraizoz did brilliantly to parry to safety. The he found space on the left and drilled in a low shot that cannoned back off the post.

Substitute Callejon finally cashed in on Real's numerical advantage by scoring from a breakaway in the 86th.

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