March 25, 2012 (The Associated Press)
March 25, 2012 (The Associated Press)
Cristiano Ronaldo became the fastest player to reach 100 goals in the Spanish league by scoring a brace to help leader Real Madrid rebound from consecutive draws with a 5-1 rout of Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Gonzalo Higuain scored before both Ronaldo and Karim Benzema hit doubles as Madrid showed no signs of missing the guiding hand of suspended coach Jose Mourinho.
Madrid stayed six points clear at the top of table following 10-man Barcelona’s 2-0 victory at Mallorca where Lionel Messi netted his 55th goal of the season in all competitions.
Messi, who broke Barcelona’s all-time scoring record on Wednesday, netted from a poorly defended free kick to become the first player in a top-level European league to score 55 goals in a season since Sporting Lisbon’s Mario Jardel in 2002.
Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara received his second booking in the 56th, but Gerard Pique volleyed in Messi’s rebound off the post in the 79th to seal the victory.
“It was an important win that will permit us to prepare well for our Champions League game against AC Milan,” said coach Pep Guardiola, whose Barcelona visits Italy on Wednesday. “I am satisfied. At the end, our will, effort and not looking for excuses allowed us to pull out the win.”
Madrid great Ferenc Puskas formerly held the record for the fastest player to reach 100 goals after doing so in 105 matches in the 1960s. Ronaldo needed 92 games to score 101.
Ronaldo and Messi are tied with 35 goals each this season in the Spanish league. With nine games to go, the duo are closing in on Ronaldo’s league record of 40 goals from last season.
Madrid faced the game at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium without Mourinho, defender Pepe, midfielders Mesut Oezil, all serving suspensions for losing their nerves in the ill-tempered ending to the 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Wednesday.
After its defensive strategy had backfired at Villarreal, Madrid started two strikers in Higuain and Benzema along with Ronaldo and Kaka.
The high-powered attack needed only six minutes to give the hosts the lead as Higuain struck a superb volley of Benzema’s pass beyond goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Ronaldo made it 2-0 in the 32nd when he galloped onto Kaka’s excellent throughball, took his time to size Bravo up, and curled a shot by the helpless keeper and inside the far post.
Madrid scored again off a long pass behind the defense when Benzema made an exquisite control of Xabi Alonso’s lob with one touch and then gently lifted it over Bravo with the next in the 41st.
Xabi Prieto pulled one back for Sociedad a minute later with a long strike that took a friendly deflection off the head of Sergio Ramos to float over goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
But Madrid kept rolling, and four minutes after halftime Benzema was left completely unmarked to blast in for his double and take his league goal tally to 16.
Ronaldo then raced behind the broken Sociedad backline to tap home Higuain’s cross in the 55th.
Mallorca carried the initiative early at Iberostar Stadium.
But a horrible defensive lapse by the hosts let Messi score one of the easier goals of his record 235 for Barcelona. Various Mallorca defenders failed to make a play on Messi’s lobbed free kick, allowing it to bounce in the area before landing in the back of the net.
The Argentina forward has scored in eight straight games with 18 goals during the streak.
Mallorca gained a numerical advantage after Thiago was shown a second yellow card for a questionable hand ball when it appeared he used his shoulder to control a ball.
“When we went down to 10 men we knew it would be tough, but we resisted well,” Pique said.
Mallorca sought to capitalize on its extra manpower, but Pique put the result beyond doubt. Messi squirmed free and fired off the goal frame, and Pique shot in the rebound as Barcelona remained perfect in its last seven league matches.
Valencia visits Getafe in Saturday’s late game.
On Sunday, it’s: Zaragoza vs. Atletico Madrid, Espanyol vs. Malaga, Levante vs. Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao vs. Sporting Gijon, Rayo Vallecano vs. Villarreal and Real Betis vs. Racing Santander.
Granada hosts Sevilla on Monday.