Ronaldo’s hat trick leads Madrid past Levante 4-2

Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo’s sixth hat trick of the season guided Real Madrid to a 4-2 victory over 10-man Levante on Sunday to extend the Spanish leader’s advantage over defending champion Barcelona to 10 points.

Gustavo Cabral gave Levante a surprising lead in the fifth minute at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, and Madrid struggled to respond until Vicente Iborra’s red card set up Ronaldo’s penalty before halftime.

Ronaldo headed home his second in the 50th before unleashing a shot from outside the area seven minutes later that took a wicked dip over goalkeeper Gustavo Munua and into goal.

Another defensive lapse from Madrid allowed Arouna Kone to head in Levante’s second in the 63rd, but Ronaldo fed Karim Benzema to curl in Madrid’s fourth minutes later.

After completing his hat trick, Ronaldo sprinted over to celebrate his league-leading 27th goal with coach Jose Mourinho, who was swarmed by players as Madrid took control of a championship that is now theirs to lose after Barcelona lost 3-2 at Osasuna on Saturday.

It was the 4,000th goal scored at the Bernabeu, as Madrid become the first team to net 75 times in 22 rounds as it eyes a first league crown in four years.

“Things are going well for me but the team is what is important,” said Ronaldo, whose 13th career Spanish league hat trick saw him pass Ferenc Puskas to trail only Alfredo di Stefano’s total of 22 for the club.

Cabral’s early goal came when Sergio Ramos flicked Francisco Farinos’ free kick straight into the path of the Levante player at the far post to head home. The early deficit unsettled Madrid, which dominated possession and scoring chances but couldn’t break through despite multiple efforts from Gonzalo Higuain.

Iborra handled a looping ball as it came down inside the area for his second booking, which gave Madrid the break it needed as Ronaldo stepped up to score his 10th penalty of the season with a shot into the top corner.

Ronaldo then slipped between defenders to head Higuain’s low cross into the bottom corner to put Madrid ahead for good.

But the Portugal forward’s third goal was his most spectacular, as he sent a long shot sailing high over Munua before it suddenly dropped down under the crossbar for his 119th goal in 122 games with the Spanish giant, surpassing the 118 he scored in 292 appearances for Manchester United.

Kone met Oscar Serrano’s cross to pull one back for Levante, but Benzema sentenced the visitors three minutes later as the France striker curled an exquisite shot around Munua for his 11th league goal.

“There are still a lot of games to go, a lot of points available and every game is more difficult than the last. We’re playing for everything with every game,” Mourinho said. “Mathematically it’s not over, there are still 39 points up for grabs. (But) 10 points gives you some margin for error so that if you lose a game it’s not the end.”

Earlier Sunday, third-place Valencia beat Sporting Gijon 4-0 for its first league win in nearly two months, while last-place Zaragoza got a much-needed boost by beating Espanyol 2-0 for its first win since October.

Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli curled a tremendous shot into the roof of goal and Sporting defender Alberto Botia redirected Feghouli’s 73rd-minute strike into his own goal. Jonas scored twice in stoppage time to move Valencia within eight points of Barcelona, while Sporting is just four points ahead of Zaragoza.

Zaragoza’s first victory in 15 games came from second-half goals by Paulo da Silva and Juan Carlos Perez as Espanyol’s seven-game unbeaten run came to an end as the Barcelona-based club failed to take advantage of Athletic Bilbao’s 3-2 loss to Real Betis on Saturday in the duel for one of the league’s Champions League qualifying spots.

Malaga rallied for a 3-1 victory over Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano beat Getafe 2-0 in a Madrid derby and Villarreal beat Granada 3-1 to win consecutive games for the first time this season.

Levante hasn’t won a match in 2012 but is still fourth and in the final Champions League place, tied with Espanyol on 32 points but ahead on goal difference. Malaga, Osasuna and Atletico Madrid, which drew 0-0 at Racing Santander on Saturday, have 31 points and Bilbao has 30.

On Monday, Sevilla plays at Sociedad.

Bureau Report

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