Ronaldo hat-trick seals Madrid comeback win

AFP, Sunday 9 Jan 2011

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a sensational hat-trick as Real Madrid twice came from behind to defeat Villarreal 4-2 on Sunday to maintain their perfect home record and close to within two points of leaders Barcelona


Portuguese star Ronaldo took his season's tally to 22 league goals with strikes in the eighth, 44th and 78th minutes after third-place Villarreal had threatened an upset after twice going in front in a pulsating first half at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Barcelona's 4-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday had put the pressure on Real to respond.
Villarreal twice took the lead only for Ronaldo to pull Real back into the game with his 20th and 21st league goals of the season to cancel out goals from Ruben Cani, after six minutes, and Marco Ruben in the 17th.

In the second half, Ronaldo again took centre stage putting Real ahead in the 78th minute after a mistake from goalkeeper Diego Lopez before Brazilian substitute Kaka celebrated his return to fitness with his first league goal of the season minutes later.

Real coach Jose Mourinho celebrated wildly on the touchline to the anger of the Villarreal dug-out and the visitors' coach Juan Carlos Garrido was sent off for protesting.

Real now turn their attention to Thursday's Kings Cup quarter-final first leg clash against city rivals Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu, while Villarreal, now 11 points behind Real in third, face Sevilla in their last eight cup clash on Wednesday.

Villarreal were without Brazilian top-scorer Nilmar but made a promising start and took a shock sixth minute lead thanks to a fine goal from Cani.

Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi created the goal with a neat turn and pass to release the winger who showed great composure to chip the ball over the advancing Iker Casillas.

It was the first time Real had conceded first at the Santiago Bernabeu in the league.

However, they responded quickly, equalising two minutes later through Ronaldo.

Karim Benzema slid a pass to Mesut Ozil and the German international squared the ball across the face of goal to give the Portuguese an easy tap-in.

Villarreal restored their lead on 17 minutes with striker Ruben racing on to a through ball before dispatching a brilliant lob over Casillas.

With half-time approaching Real drew level again with Xabi Alonso curling in a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area and the unmarked Ronaldo headed home.

Real were stronger in the second half but the breakthrough didn't come so Mourinho sent on the fit-again Kaka in the final 20 minutes.

However, it was Ronaldo who provided the inspiration taking advantage of a Lopez blunder to turn and shoot home 12 minutes from time.

Kaka scored minutes later to deflate Villarreal who had been on a high after reaching the quarter-finals of the Kings Cup with a midweek win over Valencia.

Valencia aim to forget their cup exit with a derby win at Levante later on Sunday.

Valencia currently lie fourth and will hope for maximum points to re-establish their three-point gap over fifth-placed Espanyol.

Espanyol got over their recent blip with a comfortable 4-0 home win over Real Zaragoza at the Cornella-El Prat on Sunday to boost their Champions League hopes as they moved level on points with fourth-placed Valencia.

Three successive league defeats and a midweek Kings Cup exit had deflated Espanyol, however, the Catalan side got back to winning ways scoring three times in the first 33 minutes to secure an eighth home win of the campaign.

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