Ronaldo parades Ballon d’Or, scores in Madrid win
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo paraded his Ballon d’Or trophy and scored his league-leading 22nd goal, helping Real Madrid to provisionally move top of the Spanish league with a 2-0 win over Granada on Saturday.
Ronaldo soaked up an ovation from fans in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as he held up his award for the best player in the world in 2013 before the match, which he then put his stamp on with a pinpoint strike to score in the 56th minute.
Ronaldo had wept when Pele announced his name at the Ballon d’Or gala, but he kept his emotions in check back at his home grounds, saying it was “a different afternoon” that left him “very moved.”
“I’m very happy because my fans have helped me so much during these past years,” Ronaldo said. “The Ballon d’Or is for the equipment managers, the trainers ... for all the people who work for Real Madrid. It’s for everyone.”
Karim Benzema sealed Madrid’s ninth straight win — and seventh consecutive clean sheet — in all competitions in the 74th, moments after Ronaldo’s deflected free kick clipped the crossbar.
Madrid moved two points above Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before they play games on Sunday.
“My team is playing perfectly in 2014,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It has balance between attack and defense. That’s the key. We haven’t won any silverware yet ... but our games in 2014 have been perfect.”
Also, Levante twice overcame one-goal deficits before Simao Mate scrambled in the 75th-minute winner to topple Sevilla 3-2 on the road, dealing the Andalusian side its first defeat in nine rounds.
Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas again proved to be among the best in Spain with multiple saves, while Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic scored his 10th goal of the season after missing a penalty. Levante’s Nikos Karabelas and Sevilla’s Jairo Samperio were both shown red cards late.
Valladolid ended Villarreal’s three-game winning run with a 1-0 victory at home courtesy of defender Jesus Rueda’s 40th-minute header to provisionally escape the relegation zone.
Espanyol’s promising striker Jhon Cordoba scored from long range before earning a penalty to help draw 2-2 at Valencia as both teams stayed in the upper half of the table.
Madrid’s Gareth Bale was substituted at halftime after being kicked in the groin early on. Ancelotti said after the game Bale wasn’t injured, just “uncomfortable,” and he expects his winger to be ready for the Copa del Rey match against Espanyol on Tuesday.
This was Madrid’s first home game since Ronaldo won his second Ballon d’Or on Jan. 13 when he ended Lionel Messi’s four-year reign.
Madrid fans greeted Ronaldo with an enormous mosaic stretching across a wide section of seating that read “CR7” — Ronaldo’s nickname composed of his initials and shirt number. Ronaldo responded by lifting his award with one hand while waving to his supporters with the other. He then called his teammates and veteran stadium manager Agustin Herrerin to pose with him for photos.
Ronaldo scored his 32nd goal in 28 games overall this season after receiving a pass from Luka Modric, who has established himself as Ancelotti’s most reliable midfielder both in attack and defense.
″(Modric’s) biggest quality is his ability to make incisive passes,” Ancelotti said. “Earlier in the season we had less personality in our style.”
Ronaldo turned with the ball, shuffled to his left, and slotted a left-footed strike inside the post before running to the end-line to bask in his second showering of applause for the day.
Granada never threatened Madrid, while goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez denied Ronaldo’s bicycle kick in first-half injury time and got low to save his shot in the 68th.
“We showed too much fear,” Roberto said. “They are so fast on the break and with three touches are in the box. We were too scared that they would catch us on the break if we advanced our midfielders. It’s tough to stop them right now, and especially on their pitch.”
Ronaldo also participated in Madrid’s second goal when he worked a one-two passing combination to free Marcelo, who squared for Benzema to fire home.
Barcelona hosts Malaga on Sunday while Atletico visits Rayo Vallecano.