Thursday 18 January 2018

Ronaldo treble sends Real top as Barca rue Messi spot miss

Pete Jenson

It began with the second-best player in the world scoring a 15-minute hat-trick and ended with the best having an injury-time penalty saved.

And in between Cristiano Ronaldo's first goal and Lionel Messi's missed spot-kick, Freddie Kanoute was sent off for striking Cesc Fabregas and Real Madrid went top for the first time this season.

Real and Barcelona don't need to play each other for Saturday nights to have a 'Clasico' feel, so entwined are the fates of the two teams who contest La Liga's crown.

One commentator suggested that if they do build a statue to honour Seville's keeper Javi Varas, they will be as wise to put it in Madrid as in Seville, as without his display Real would not have moved above Barca in the table.

First came Real Madrid's potentially difficult encounter with La Liga's new-money club Malaga. Ronaldo had not scored for three games -- a drought for a player who has found the net 98 times in 103 games for the club.

He put that right in one deadly quarter-hour. First he converted an Angel di Maria cross with a left-foot finish. There was barely time to finish the dance celebration with full-back Marcelo before he had bagged his second, converting a Xabi Alonso pass.


He completed the treble with a back-heeled volley from another Di Maria cross.

"I like to see players score goals that we have worked on in training but as a football fan that was a goal to remember," said Jose Mourinho of Ronaldo's third goal and Madrid's fourth after Gonzalo Higuain's opener.

Malaga recovered in the second half and hit the bar twice but Madrid had their points banked.

All eyes turned to the Camp Nou to see if the victory would take Real above their rivals -- it did, thanks to Varas.

Barcelona had 20 shots on goal and he was a match for them all, saving brilliantly either side of half-time from Andres Iniesta and keeping out a Messi free-kick.

Two minutes into injury-time it seemed the heroics would count for nothing when Iniesta went down in a crowded box and Barcelona were awarded their first penalty of the season.

It was not so much Varas against Messi as Varas and Kanoute against Messi.

The former Tottenham striker stood over the ball after it had been placed on the spot, kicked it away and was cautioned by the referee. Kanoute then hit out at Cesc Fabregas and was promptly shown the red card.

When the furore died down, Messi took the match-deciding kick. He had only missed five in his career but, as he sent it to Varas' left, the night's hero palmed it around his post. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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