Ronaldo leads Real to brink of La Liga title


Sun, 29 Apr 19:34:00 2012

* Portuguese nets 43rd of the campaign in win over Sevilla

* Real could be crowned champions if Barcelona lose later

* Ronaldo first in 80 years to reach 43 goals in a season (Adds Zaragoza and Malaga wins)

Cristiano Ronaldo struck his 43rd league goal of the campaign to set Real Madrid on their way to a 3-0 home win over Sevilla on Sunday that put them within a whisker of a first La Liga title in four years.

It was a much-needed return to winning ways for Jose Mourinho's side after the shock of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final elimination by Bayern Munich and they could clinch the title later on Sunday if second-placed Barcelona lose at Rayo Vallecano (1930 GMT).

Karim Benzema contributed a quickfire double early in the second half as Real moved on to 91 points with three games left, with Barca, whose three-year stranglehold on the Spanish title is almost certainly drawing to an end, 10 adrift on 81.

The holders were also dumped out of Europe in midweek, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Chelsea on Tuesday, and were stunned three days later by the news that coach Pep Guardiola was stepping down after four years during which he led the team to 13 trophies.

"We won this game which was very important and now we'll carry on so we can close out the league title," Benzema said in an interview with Spanish television.

"The Champions League is finished so now we need to make sure we win the next most important competition," added the France international.


Big-spending Malaga strengthened their chances of a first venture into the Champions League next season when a cross looped in off Ignacio Camacho's shoulder for a 1-0 win at home to Valencia.

The visitors, who were dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday, had midfielder Sofiane Feghouli sent off in the 61st minute, and Manuel Pellegrini's side drew level with them on 55 points.

Valencia stayed third, ahead of Malaga in fourth due to their superior head-to-head record, in the last two qualification slots for Europe's elite club competition.

Elsewhere, Real Zaragoza fired their survival hopes with a surprise 2-0 home win over Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao, which left them four points from safety.

Ronaldo's 19th-minute opener at the Bernabeu, scene of Real's dramatic penalty shootout defeat to Bayern, was his 57th in all competitions.

Benzema made it 3-0 with goals in the 48th and 52nd minutes as Sevilla, who squandered a host of good chances, were swatted aside. The Andalusians are ninth on 46 points and in danger of missing out on a lucrative place in Europe next season.

Benzema's brace took his league tally for the campaign to 20 and with strike partner Gonzalo Higuain on 21 it is the first time three players from one club have scored 20 or more goals in a La Liga season. Their combined total of 84 is 30 more than third-placed Valencia's total.


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