Ronaldo's Real heel earns win over Rayo

Moment of magic gives Madrid 0-1 victory over cross-town neighbors Zaragoza coach Jiménez says he feels "ashamed" of team

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates after scoring against Rayo Vallecano.
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates after scoring against Rayo Vallecano.CESAR MANSO (AFP)

A 53rd-minute backheel by Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real Madrid a narrow 0-1 victory in Sunday’s derby match against its lowly cross-town neighbor and Liga overachiever Rayo Vallecano. It was the Portuguese forward’s 29th of the season, two ahead of Lionel Messi, and moved José Mourinho’s team 13 points clear at the head of the table ahead of Barça’s late Sunday clash against Atlético Madrid at the nearby Vicente Calderón.

The mere mortals of La Liga meanwhile occupied themselves with jockeying for the remaining European positions at the top of the list and avoiding the drop zone at the bottom over the weekend.

Levante’s remarkable unbeaten run at the start of season was starting to look like ancient history with the team, without a league win in 2012, plummeting down the table in apparent free fall. But a 1-2 victory against Espanyol, snatched with a Rubén Suárez free kick in the 89th minute at the latter’s Cornellà-El Prat home on Saturday night, has, at the very least, opened a parachute for the old timers of La Liga, dropping them agreeably back into fourth spot and Champions League contention.

Former Espanyol winger Valdo put Levante ahead in a first half otherwise dominated by the home side. And it wasn’t until the 74th minute that substitute Kalu Uche finally pulled one back for Espanyol, before Suárez’s deflected winner.

After the match, the Spanish midfielder said Levante’s aim for the season remained unchanged: to avoid relegation.

“Obviously the more time we spend near the head of the table the better,” Suárez told Spanish television.

“Our goal is still the same, which is avoiding the drop, so we are keeping our feet on the ground.”

Twelve months ago, a meeting between Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal would have been a similar head-of-the-table clash. But while the Basque club remains in the running for the fourth Champions League spot, Villarreal’s disastrous first half of this season has left it hovering one place above the relegation zone in 17th.

Sunday lunchtime’s passionate 2-2 tie between the two at El Madrigal may have had the competitive flavor of former days but did few favors for either team, leaving Villarreal still three points above the drop and Athletic held up outside the Champions League places.

Veteran Marcos Senna opened the scoring for the home side 10 minutes into an open first half, but Athletic took the edge at the start of the second following the introduction of Fernando Llorente, who leveled the match just after the hour. Five minutes later Markel Susaeta put the visitor into the lead, but Villarreal bounced back immediately with a strike from Brazilian Nilmar.

Just above the Valencian side, 18th-placed Racing Santander and 19th-placed Sporting Gijón played out a similarly unsatisfactory 1-1 tie Saturday that merely consolidated both teams’ positions in the relegation places. At La Rosaleda on Saturday, however, bottom-placed Zaragoza showed signs of the team it might have been had economic turmoil not enveloped the club this season.

The Aragonese took the lead against a shaky-looking Málaga via Carlos Aranda on 23 minutes before the Andalusians drew level from a Seba Fernández header just before half time and an own goal by Zaragoza defender Paulo da Silva 22 minutes after the break changed everything.

After that Manuel Pellegrini’s men ran amok with goals from Martín Demichelis, Isco and Salomón Rondón carving out a 5-1 rout that flattered Málaga and left new Zaragoza coach Manolo Jiménez fuming.

“Good evening, I am going to give you the headline you need,” he told reporters at the start of the post-match press conference.

“Real Zaragoza played well up to the second goal.[...] There are no more excuses. I feel ashamed, I feel ashamed,” he said before walking out.

Other results: Betis 1-1 Getafe; Valencia 1-2 Sevilla; Sociedad 1-0 Mallorca.

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