© AP, Jan 22, 2012

Real Madrid beats Athletic Bilbao 4-1 in Spain

MADRID(AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties to lead Real Madrid to a 4-1 comeback victory over 10-man Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, keeping the Spanish leader five points clear despite Barcelona's 4-1 win at Malaga that featured a hat trick from Lionel Messi.

A youthful Bilbao went ahead through Fernando Llorente's 13th-minute opener in an electric start for the Basques at Santiago Bernabeu stadium, before Marcelo charged into the area to level for Madrid in the 25th.

Ronaldo stroked home a pair of spot kicks in the second half and Jose Callejon added a late goal to secure the hosts a much-needed win following their midweek 2-1 home loss to Barcelona.

That defeat led the disgruntled crowd to jeer Madrid coach Jose Mourinho throughout Sunday's game, the first public outcry against the Portuguese since his arrival in 2010.

''In the first half we committed a lot of defensive errors because of our opponent,'' said Mourinho. ''But even when losing 1-0 the team kept playing well, and in the second half our defensive errors dropped and we eventually won easily.''

Barcelona holds a 2-1 lead and hosts Madrid on Wednesday in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, but Madrid defender Marcelo isn't giving up.

''You can expected Madrid to fight to the finish,'' he said.

Mourinho, whose tactics against Barcelona have been questioned, made a number of changes to the defensive side that lost to Madrid's fierce rival. He gave rare starts to Kaka, midfielder Esteban Granero and brought back playmaker Mesut Oezil and Marcelo to match Bilbao's attack-minded starting 11.

One of the players Mourinho left on the bench was Pepe following four days of heavy criticism toward the defender for stomping on Messi against Barcelona.

As billed, the match against Bilbao was an up-and-down affair.

Llorente finished a lightening-fast attack after Ander Herrera had played the ball wide to Javi Martinez, who sent a perfect cross to the far post for the Spain striker to bang in a left-footed volley.

But the open flow of the contest quickly led to Marcelo's leveler. The Brazil defender strung together a pair of one-two passes with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to penetrate the heart of the defense and fire into the net.

Ronaldo put Madrid in front from the penalty spot two minutes after the break, when Ander Iturraspe tugged Kaka down in the box. The Portugal forward then gave Madrid the cushion it needed in the 67th after Oscar de Marcos was shown a direct red for fouling Oezil in front of goal.

Ronaldo's double took his league-high to 23 goals, one more than Messi's total.

''Until the time of the sending off we played on level terms with them,'' Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa said. ''With one man less it made it more difficult for us to defend and to attack, too.''

Callejon cashed in on Madrid's numerical advantage by scoring from a breakaway in the 86th.

Barcelona has struggled away from home this season, with just one win in its previous four outings. But once Messi found the net for just the second time on the road this campaign, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team it was before a 60 million ($77.5 million) overhaul in the offseason.

Andres Iniesta passed to Adriano out wide and he squared for Messi to guide a graceful header past diving goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 33rd. It was Messi's first headed goal in the league this season and just his 10th ever for Barcelona out of 216 goals.

''(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency,'' Guardiola said. ''He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come.''

Barcelona made short work of Malaga after halftime, with Alexis Sanchez pouncing on the rebound following a shot by Thiago Alcantara and firing inside the top of the goal in the 48th.

As special as his first goal was, the second was pure Messi. The three-time Ballon D'Or winner put the result beyond doubt three minutes later when he recovered the ball in Malaga territory, skirted through a swarm of reeling defenders and slotted a left-footed strike into the left corner.

He hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 75th but was not to be denied seven minutes later when he charged down the left flank, rode a defender's tackle and beat Caballero with a light touch of his left foot to send the ball bouncing into the far side of the net.

''There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way,'' Messi said.

Malaga substitute striker Jose Rondon scored the hosts' late consolation goal.

Earlier, it was: Osasuna 1, Valencia 1; Rayo Vallecano 0, Mallorca 1 and Levante 0, Zaragoza 0.

On Saturday, it was: Real Sociedad 0, Atletico Madrid 4; Racing Santander 1, Getafe 2; Espanyol 3, Granada 0 and Real Betis 1, Sevilla 1.

Sporting Gijon is at Villarreal on Monday.


Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

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