Ronaldo spearheads Real comeback


MADRID, January 9- Cristiano Ronaldo scored a sensational hat-trick as Real Madrid twice came from behind to defeat Villarreal 4-2 on Sunday to maintain their perfect home record and close to within two points of leaders Barcelona.
Portuguese star Ronaldo took his season’s tally to 22 league goals with strikes in the eighth, 44th and 78th minutes after third-place Villarreal had threatened an upset after twice going in front in a pulsating first half at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday had put the pressure on Real to respond.

Villarreal twice took the lead only for Ronaldo to pull Real back into the game with his 20th and 21st league goals of the season to cancel out goals from Ruben Cani, after six minutes, and Marco Ruben in the 17th.

In the second half, Ronaldo again took centre stage putting Real ahead in the 78th minute after a mistake from goalkeeper Diego Lopez before Brazilian substitute Kaka celebrated his return to fitness with his first league goal of the season minutes later.

"I am just doing my bit and I couldn’t score all these goals without my team-mates," said Ronaldo.

"There is a long way to go in the season and I want to continue in this vein and help Real Madrid win something important.

"The fans were great tonight and surprised me. We noticed it a lot in the second half when we fought back."

Real coach Jose Mourinho celebrated wildly on the touchline to the anger of the Villarreal dug-out and the visitors’ coach Juan Carlos Garrido was sent off for protesting that Ronaldo’s third goal was offside.

"The referees are afraid to make a mistake against Real Madrid but not against another team," fumed Garrido.

"There were three actions when Real players should have been shown yellow cards and weren’t. The goal for 3-2 was also decisive and there were two offsides in the same action."

Real now turn their attention to Thursday’s Kings Cup quarter-final first leg clash against city rivals Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu, while Villarreal, now 11 points behind Real in third, face Sevilla in their last eight cup clash on Wednesday.

Villarreal were without Brazilian top-scorer Nilmar but made a promising start and took a shock sixth minute lead thanks to a fine goal from Cani.

Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi created the goal with a neat turn and pass to release the winger who showed great composure to chip the ball over the advancing Iker Casillas.

It was the first time Real had conceded first at the Santiago Bernabeu in the league.

However, they responded quickly, equalising two minutes later through Ronaldo.

Karim Benzema slid a pass to Mesut Ozil who squared the ball across the face of goal to give the Portuguese an easy tap-in.

Villarreal restored their lead on 17 minutes with striker Ruben racing on to a through ball before dispatching a brilliant lob over Casillas.

With half-time approaching Real drew level again with Xabi Alonso curling in a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area and the unmarked Ronaldo headed home.

Real were stronger in the second half but the breakthrough didn’t come so Mourinho sent on the fit-again Kaka in the final 20 minutes.

However, it was Ronaldo who provided the inspiration taking advantage of a Lopez blunder to turn and shoot home 12 minutes from time.

Kaka scored minutes later to deflate Villarreal who had been on a high after reaching the quarter-finals of the Kings Cup with a midweek win over Valencia.

In other matches, Valencia bounced back from that cup setback with a 1-0 derby win over Levante to move three points ahead of fifth-placed Espanyol.

Spanish international winger Juan Mata missed a 26th minute penalty but made amends with an 82nd minute winner to clinch the three points.

Espanyol got over their recent blip with a comfortable 4-0 home win over Real Zaragoza at the Cornella-El Prat on Sunday to boost their Champions League hopes and stay in touch with fourth-placed Valencia.