Ronaldo shines for Real Madrid

Spanish league leaders sweep past Osasuna to inch closer to the title as Messi scores to keep Barca in the race.

    Messi ensures the gap at the top of the Primera Division is only six points, keeping the pressure on Real [EPA]

    Cristiano Ronaldo scored a pair after setting up Karim Benzema's spectacular opener as Real Madrid routed Osasuna 5-1 while Lionel Messi responded with his 56th goal to keep Barcelona within six points in Spain’s Primera Division on Saturday.

    Gonzalo Higuain also scored a brace as Madrid did not fumble at Reyno de Navarra Stadium, where Barcelona lost 3-2 this season, and Madrid leader Ronaldo moved one goal clear of Messi with a league-leading tally of 37 goals.

    Before Barcelona won 2-0 over Athletic Bilbao, the Camp Nou paid tribute to Messi becoming the club's all-time leading scorer by unveiling an enormous banner, and the Argentina forward followed up Andres Iniesta's first-half goal with a 58th-minute penalty.

    His 56th goal in all competitions is the most for a player in a major European league since Gerd Mueller scored 67 for Bayern Munich in 1972-73.

    Fancy footwork

    Ronaldo has 47 goals this season but it was his fancy footwork that set up Madrid's seventh-minute opener as he found space deep along the left side to fire in a long cross that Benzema volleyed back across goal and inside the far post.

    "We converted the first opportunity with a goal from another world,'' Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said.

    "And the second goal was fantastic, too.''

    Osasuna goalkeeper Andres Fernandez could not get to the Portugal forward's shot from 35 yards out as it spun past in the 37th.

    Madrid went into half-time leading 3-0 after Esteban Granero played Higuain clear through, with the Argentina striker chipping over Fernandez for his 100th goal with the Spanish powerhouse.

    Juan "Nino'' Martinez sneaked behind Alvaro Arbeloa to head home a long cross for the hosts in the 48th. And while Javad Nekanoum tested Iker Casillas in the 55th, Madrid restored their three-goal cushion in the 70th as Ronaldo's free kick from just outside the area took a deflection off Dejan Lekic to leave Fernandez without a chance.

    "With the fourth goal it was over,'' said Mourinho, whose changes to the line-up with Pepe suspended included centre back Raul Albiol starting for the first time since December.

    Higuain headed home Ronaldo's short cross seven minutes later for Madrid's 100th goal of the season, leaving the club just seven shy of matching its own 22-year-old record in a season with eight games to play.

    "I can't imagine us losing this championship,'' Ronaldo said. "We're sitting very well.''

    Osasuna, who saw coach Jose Luis Mendilibar sent off for protesting soon after Ronaldo's opener, were left with 10 men after Roland Lamah's second yellow card in the 90th.


    Coach Marcelo Bielsa made a number of changes as Bilbao played less than 48 hours after their 4-2 Europa League win at Schalke, and the fatigue showed as the Basque side looked content to play for a draw.

    Results & fixtures

    Saturday 31 March

    Sporting Gijon 1-2 Zaragoza
    Racing 0-1 Granada
    Osasuna 1-5 Real Madrid
    Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
    Malaga 0-2 Real Betis

    Sunday 1 April

    Atletico Madrid v Getafe
    Valencia v Levante
    Sociedad v Rayo
    Villarreal v Espanyol

    Monday 2 April

    Sevilla v Mallorca

    The 2,000-square-metre banner said "Leo You're Unique, You're Great'' and Messi would take his club record tally to 235 goals with a penalty set up by Javi Martinez's foul on Cristian Tello.

    Before that, Athletic 'keeper Gorka Iraizoz got a fingertip to Messi's swerving free kick in the 25th.

    Gorka was helpless in the 41st after Messi played Iniesta into the area to unleash an unstoppable shot into the roof of goal.

    Messi would manage six shots, but Iraizoz did not flinch as he kept the Argentine from adding more to his tally ahead of Tuesday's Champions League match against AC Milan.

    Bilbao's best chance came in the 80th as substitute Iker Muniain beat Barcelona goalie Victor Valdes but Pique slid over to clear it before it crossed the goal line, while Messi gave Seydou Keita a chance at the close but the Mali midfielder shot off the crossbar.

    Earlier, Zaragoza scored in stoppage time for a 2-1 win at Sporting Gijon and Granada's last-minute penalty secured a 1-0 victory at Racing Santander to shake up the relegation places.

    Angel Lafita redirected Franco Zuculini's cross home in the 91st-minute to lift Zaragoza out of last place with a third straight triumph, while Guillherme Siqueira converted an 89th-minute penalty for Granada to stay six points ahead of the drop.

    Zaragoza moved to within three points of 17th-place Villarreal, who play Espanyol on Sunday, and three points above Racing and Sporting in the last relegation spot with eight games left.

    Also, Ruben Castro and Chechu Dorado scored first-half goals as Real Betis beat Malaga 2-0 for their first victory in seven games to move one point above Granada. Malaga stayed fourth despite their six-game unbeaten run coming to an end.



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