Ronaldo hits 50 goals for season in win for Madrid
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 49th and 50th goals in all competitions this season as Real Madrid won 3-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, while Barcelona didn’t need Lionel Messi to brush aside Real Zaragoza 3-0 and ease closer to the Spanish league title.
Ronaldo opened with a dipping free kick two minutes in and scored again in the 69th, before passing for Gonzalo Higuain to net a third in the 76th.
“We have a great player in Ronaldo,” Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “He is so competitive. He wants to play every game and score as many goals he can.
“We got a great result tonight that lets us continue in second place.”
Barcelona’s own convincing victory led by a double from 21-year-old forward Cristian Tello kept it 13 points clear of Madrid with seven rounds to go.
Elsewhere, Radamel Falcao scored twice in Atletico Madrid’s 5-0 rout of Granada as it remained three points behind Madrid in third place, while Real Sociedad cemented its hold on fourth place and the last Champions League spot by winning 2-0 at Rayo Vallecano.
Ronaldo struck a perfect free kick to put Madrid ahead at San Mames Stadium.
Known for his blistering long-range blasts, Ronaldo instead used an exquisite bending effort to swerve the ball over the barrier and land it beyond the reach of goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz.
“Cristiano’s first goal put us on the way to victory,” Higuain said. “He’s in great form, and I hope he keeps it up for all of us.”
Bilbao responded well, but Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez got just enough of Markel Susaeta’s and Ander Herrera’s shots to push them wide and protect the lead until Ronaldo struck again in the 69th.
After Ronaldo had complained vehemently following a collision with Ander Iturraspe at the beginning of the second half, the Portugal forward fought off Ramalho to thump home Xabi Alonso’s free kick with a stinging header. Ronaldo has scored 31 league goals — 12 fewer than Messi, who has scored 57 in all competitions.
Ronaldo capped his outstanding night by beating the offside trap with a pass that Higuain drove past Iraizoz.
Messi was left out of Barcelona’s squad as he recovers from a right hamstring injury that he played through as a substitute to help Barcelona rally against Paris Saint-Germain and reach the Champions League semifinals earlier this week.
The Argentina forward wasn’t the only Barcelona player to take the day off. It played with only five of its regular starters, given that the league title is well in hand and several players need extra rest before its Champions League tie with Bayern Munich begins on April 23. Madrid faces the first leg of its semifinal against Borussia Dortmund the next day.
Even with a side full of reserves, Barcelona still had more than enough quality, above all in the playmaking provided by Thiago Alcantara, to waltz around the relegation-threatened Zaragoza.
“We’re happy for the result because La Romareda has been a difficult ground for us in recent times,” Thiago said. “I think the team overall played a very complete game in every facet, both in attack and defense.
“The league is almost over. We want to thank the people who supported us and the cheers of ‘Champions!’, but we have to fight until the finish.”
Thiago got things rolling by linking up with Alexis Sanchez on the break. He played the Chile forward wide before receiving the ball back and rolling a shot in off the far post before two defenders could close him down.
The 22-year-old midfielder then played Tello through the defense and with time to size up goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez before beating him with a curling left-footed shot.
After Alexis had hit the crossbar, Tello sealed the victory with an audacious step-over dribble to leave defender Glenn Loovens in his tracks before he slipped the ball past Roberto from a tight angle.
Zaragoza stayed winless in 2013 and appears destined to yet another late-season struggle to avoid the drop.
Falcao scored his 23rd and 24th league goals this season to guide Atletico to an easy home victory over Granada.
Diego Costa, Raul Garcia and Filipe Luis netted Atletico’s other goals in a game featuring a superb performance by midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurrecion, who set up three goals with expertly placed crosses.
Sociedad striker Imanol Agirretxe scored two early goals to give the Basque side its win at Rayo.
Sociedad rose four points clear of Malaga and Valencia. It is on a league-best run of just one loss in its last 21 games.