Ronaldo fires Real Madrid four points clear at top

MADRID: Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic, left, runs with the ball through Real Sociedad defenders during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Sunday. Kovacic scored once in Real Madrid’s 3-0 victory. – AP

MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo shrugged off the boos of his own supporters to fire Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday as Zinedine Zidane’s side took advantage of slip ups by Barcelona and Sevilla to open up a four-point lead at the top of La Liga. Ronaldo teed up Mateo Kovacic for the opener in the 38th minute to cool tensions at the Bernabeu after supporters had grown impatient with the team’s uninspired display and the Portuguese secured victory with a strike of his own in the 51st. Substitute Alvaro Morata then put the finishing touch to the win by adding the third in the 82nd minute. Ronaldo had been one of the scapegoats for Real’s recent stuttering run which saw them win one of their last four games and exit the King’s Cup in midweek to Celta Vigo.

He was whistled after giving the ball away early in the game and responded by shouting back at the crowd although all was forgiven when he latched onto Kovacic’s through ball and coolly chipped it into the net. Real Sociedad had made things difficult for Real on a rainy evening in the Spanish capital and could have levelled before the break when forward Juanmi burst into the area but skewed wide. The Basque side’s resistance waned after Ronaldo’s goal and they had defender Inigo Martinez sent off in the 74th minute for two bookings.

Morata, who had an earlier goal wiped out for offside, headed in Lucas Vazquez’s cross shortly after Sociedad had been rduced to 10 men and Ronaldo also had a second goal ruled out in the 90th minute for offside. Real top the standings on 46 points, four clear of Barcelona, who were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Betis on Sunday, and Sevilla, who were beaten 2-1 at Espanyol, and have a game in hand on both their title rivals. However, even without six first-team regulars through injury, Real took a huge step towards a first La Liga title for five years against an in-form Sociedad, who remain just one point off the top four in fifth. “After a few difficult days we were back to being ourselves tonight. It was a complete performance against a strong opponent,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“We can say it has been a good night for us because our rivals have drawn or lost.” Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring with the only real chance of the first-half as he timed his late run from midfield perfectly for Ronaldo’s through ball and slotted low beyond Geronimo Rulli. The roles were reversed six minutes into the second-half as this time Kovacic’s pass split the Sociedad defence and Ronaldo coolly chipped the onrushing Rulli for his 20th goal of the season. Sociedad’s uphill task was made impossible 15 minutes from time when Inigo Martinez was sent-off for a second bookable offence. And Alvaro Morata made the 10 men pay as he bulleted home Lucas Vazquez’s cross for the third eight minutes from time. – Agencies

This article was published on 30/01/2017