Ronaldo late brace seals Madrid comeback
Madrid : Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in the last eight minutes for Spanish leader Real Madrid to rally for a 3-1 win over Hercules.
Hercules went ahead early through a David Trezeguet header before Angel Di Maria volleyed past goalkeeper Juan Calatayud for a 53rd-minute equalizer on Saturday .
Ronaldo latched onto a Karim Benzema rebound to put Madrid ahead at Jose Rico Perez Stadium before adding his league-leading 12th goal of the season four minutes later after converting substitute Benzema`s 86th-minute pass. The Portugal forward nearly had a hat trick, but shot high in the closing stages.
Madrid is top of the table with 23 points, while Villarreal and Barcelona - which plays Sevilla later – are tied on 19 points. Earlier, Valencia was held to 1-1 at home against 10-man Zaragoza to go to 17 points.
Hercules came out more aggressively in the first half when Calatayud made clutch stops as Madrid pressed for an answer to Trezeguet`s opener.
The French striker tallied his fifth goal of the season off a long cross from David Cortes to put Real Madrid behind for the first time this season.
Calatayud made consecutive saves in the 23rd – first blocking a hard strike from deep by Ronaldo and then extending his right foot to deflect a rebounded shot by Gonzalo Higuain.
Trezeguet tested keeper Iker Casillas three minutes later, firing in a low header from Oliver Thombert.
The visitors then began to control the tempo and the scoring opportunities as Xabi Alonso half-volleyed a clean shot high on the half-hour mark and Ronaldo had another try cleared by Cortes shortly after.
But Hercules did not pull back even with the lead, and in the 42nd Thombert missed getting off a clean shot after a nice combination. While Hercules was the better side in the first half, Madrid took control after the break.
The absence of Royston Drenthe - who helped it to a pair of wins over Barcelona and Sevilla - was noted, however, as Hercules lost some of its spark. The Dutch winger could not play because he is on loan from Madrid.
Calatayud had to block a sharp strike Di Maria managed to get on target with very little angle. But three minutes later he could do nothing as he picked the top corner of goal.
Madrid continued to press with Sergio Ramos and Higuain coming close before Marcelo found Benzema for a chance that Calatayud saved but Ronaldo was perfectly positioned to bury the rebound into goal.
Ronaldo scored for the fourth straight game after sending Benzema`s centering pass into the roof of the net.
At Mestalla Stadium, Maurizio Lanzaro struck for Zaragoza three minutes in when the defender fired a spinning shot off a corner that the Valencia defense failed to clear.
Zaragoza, which was coming off its first victory of the campaign thanks to a Copa del Rey win, had the better opportunities throughout the first half and tallied four chances inside the first 11 minutes.
Valencia went close through Ricardo Costa and Aritz Aduriz before Lanzaro scored again into his own goal in the 43rd as his attempt to head out a cross ended up in the back of the net.
Valencia - which is winless in three games – pressured through the second half as Zaragoza`s momentum dropped but couldn`t score a winner despite Ander Herrera`s sending off in the 68th.
Zaragoza provisionally moved out of last, although it remained winless after nine games.
On Sunday, it`s: Sporting Gijon vs. Villarreal; Racing Santander vs. Osasuna; Malaga vs. Real Sociedad; Deportivo La Coruna vs. Espanyol; Atletico Madrid vs. Almeria; and Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe.
Mallorca plays Levante on Monday to close the ninth round.