Mon, Apr 16, 2012 - Page 20 News List

Records tumble as Real, Barca rally to win

AFP, Madrid

Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain, left, scores a goal which was later disallowed in front of teammate Pepe, second right, and Sporting de Gijon’s Ivan Hernandez, second left, and goalkeeper Juan Pablo Colinas in their La Liga match at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi took their La Liga goals tally this season to a record-breaking 41 each on Saturday.

First, Ronaldo broke his own mark of last season by scoring in the 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Sporting de Gijon.

Later, Messi grabbed a brace as Barcelona also hit back from a goal down to defeat Levante UD 2-1 as the champions stayed four points behind Real with the mouthwatering, season-defining El Clasico to come next weekend.

On a night of landmarks, Real’s third goal was their 107th in La Liga this season. It puts them level with John Toshack’s Real Madrid team of the 1989-1990 season with Jose Mourinho’s side still with five matches to play.

“The records come as a result of the work of all the players, who have given so much and deserve to be champions,” Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka said. “For those who say that Jose Mourinho is a defensive coach, then you just need to look at these statistics.”

A Sergio Ramos handball had seen Miguel Angel de las Cuevas put Sporting ahead from the penalty spot after half an hour, before Gonzalo Higuain equalized with a header after 36 minutes.

Ronaldo finally broke Sporting’s resistance with a header after 74 minutes and, following the dismissal of Roberto Canella for a second yellow card, Karim Benzema hit the third.

Nuri Sahin began in midfield for Real alongside Sami Khedira, with Xabi Alonso suspended.

Jose Callejon was included in a four-pronged attack with Benzema on the bench, Mourinho holding him back for the Champions League semi-final with Bayern Munich tomorrow.

Sporting won a controversial penalty after Ramos slid in to clear the ball and the referee claimed he handled. De las Cuevas sent the ball straight down the middle of the goal to give Sporting the lead.

Real responded with Khedira going close with a shot from the edge of the area, before Higuain headed in the equalizer.

Ramos crossed for the Argentine, who had not been picked up by Sporting defense, and he knocked the ball past goalkeeper Juan Pablo.

Mourinho brought on Benzema and Angel Di Maria for the second half.

Ronaldo had further shots from distance and Benzema missed a half-chance, but they appeared to be lacking inspiration before Ronaldo headed in a 74th-minute Di Maria cross.

Canella, who was already on a yellow card, picked up a second for a foul on Di Maria and then, nine minutes from the end, Benzema sealed the victory with a shot from a Mesut Ozil pass.

Levante went ahead against Barcelona from a 23rd-minute penalty converted by Jose Barkero, but Messi then hit a second-half brace, with his second goal from the penalty spot after a foul by Pedro Botelho on Juan Cuenca, drawing him level with his great Portuguese rival Ronaldo on 41 league goals.

“This result is important in lifting us for the upcoming match in London and then the Madrid game,” said Barca coach Pep Guardiola, with his side facing Chelsea in their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. “Now we are going to think about the Chelsea match and then Madrid, which will be a very hard game. We have won the last three titles, but if they win this time then that will be that.”

Barcelona had a depleted defense with Dani Alves and Gerard Pique only fit for a place on the bench along with Andres Iniesta, who was rested.

Pedro Rodriguez had a shot saved by Levante goalkeeper Gustavo Munua and Thiago Alcantara headed wide as Barca looked comfortable in possession.

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