Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace on Monday to help Real Madrid beat RC Celta de Vigo 3-0 to stay in touch with the top of the La Liga standings, and then dedicated his goals to the memory of Portuguese great Eusebio.
Ronaldo said his league-leading 19th and 20th goals of the season “were for Eusebio,” the former SL Benfica star who died on Sunday at the age of 71.
“He was very close to me and helped me a lot,” Ronaldo said of his countryman. “He is a mythic figure and for me today is a very sad day.”
Before the match, Ronaldo locked arms with his teammates on the center circle and turned his gaze upward during a minute’s silence for Eusebio at the Santiago Bernabeu. Hours before in Lisbon, tens of thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to the 1965 Ballon d’Or winner, who is considered among the best players of all time.
“I appreciate the acts of homage made here at the stadium and throughout Spain,” Ronaldo said. “It’s important to feel the sympathy from Spain and the rest of the world.”
Ronaldo moved one goal ahead of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa as La Liga’s top scorer by finding the net in the 82nd minute and again in stoppage-time from a cross by substitute Gareth Bale on his return from a three-week injury layoff.
Celta’s attack, led by midfielder Rafina Alcantara, created the clearest chances of the match until Karim Benzema broke through from close range in the 67th minute with his ninth goal in the league this season.
Madrid’s win after the league’s two-week winter break left them five points behind Barcelona and Atletico, who play each other in the Spanish capital on Saturday.
“In the first half we were a little slow and the team wasn’t well balanced,” Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said. “They had too many counterattacks, [but] it’s normal after the Christmas break. In the second half we played with more intensity.”
Elsewhere on Monday, Villarreal striker Ikechukwu Uche scored a hat-trick and Jeremy Perbet added two more in a 5-2 win at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid.
Celta, coached by former Real Madrid and Barcelona player Luis Enrique, played the hosts to a standstill in the first half while enjoying the best scoring opportunities.
Celta striker Charles had a great look six minutes in, but failed to beat goalkeeper Diego Lopez one-on-one, before Rafina, the younger brother of Bayern Munich’s Thiago, had a shot that looked goalbound when it deflected off a defender in the 37th minute.
Bale had been warming up on the touchline since the half-hour mark and Ancelotti sent him on in the 65th minute.
Charles wasted Rafina’s through-ball moments later by sending his shot well wide and soon the game swung in the hosts’ favor when Benzema fended off his marker and redirected substitute Jese Rodriguez’s short pass into the net.
“The truth is we had problems in the first half, but I think you could see the change after Bale and I went on,” Jese said.
With Celta still threatening to equalize, Ronaldo charged forward to meet Dani Carvajal’s cross and sweep it home.
Ronaldo struck again in stoppage-time, banging in a cross from Bale to complete his brace a week before FIFA announces the Ballon d’Or winner. Ronaldo is a finalist along with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich.
“They have some of the best players in the world and they punish you if you give them half a chance,” Rafina said.