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Ronaldo eyes title as Real smash 100-goal barrier

MADRID, Spain, April 1 – Cristiano Ronaldo took his La Liga season goal tally to 37 on Saturday as Real Madrid smashed through the 100-goal barrier to move closer to the Spanish title.

Ronaldo, who scored twice in the 5-1 demolition of Osasuna, is now just three shy of his own record of 40 league goals set last season and there are still eight matches left.

More importantly, his team maintained their six-point lead over bitter rivals Barcelona who stayed in touch with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, a match which saw fellow free-scorer Lionel Messi grab his 36th league goal.

“I dream of winning La Liga and I haven’t considered for one moment that we could lose it,” said Ronaldo.

“But there are still eight games to play and we know that we have to keep winning because Barcelona are still on our heels.”

Saturday’s win in Pamplona took Real to 100 goals scored in 30 league games against just 27 conceded.

Karim Benzema set Real on their way with a delightful volley in the seventh minute before Ronaldo, on 37 minutes, and Gonzalo Higuain, three minutes later, made it 3-0 at the interval.

Higuain’s strike took the Argentina international to 100 goals in his Real career.

While Osasuna threatened a brief comeback after the break through a Juan Francisco ‘Nino’ header, Ronaldo struck again after 69 minutes and Higuain wrapped up the scoring in the 77th.

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A minute from the end, Osasuna substitute Roland Lamah was dismissed for a second yellow card as his team’s six-match unbeaten run came to an end on the day that coach Jose Luis Mendilibar had extended his contract for another year.

“We scored from the first chance that we had with a goal which was out of this world and the second was also fantastic,” said Real coach Jose Mourinho.

“We adapted well against a tough side like Osasuna and we continued to play our attacking style which involved looking for our strikers. Even when we conceded the goal we knew how to respond and did not panic at 3-1. It was a good performance by us.”

At Camp Nou, Barca went ahead five minutes before the break against Bilbao through Andres Iniesta.

In the 58th minute, Messi scored his 36th league goal of the season after Cristian Tello was felled in the box.

The Argentine star now has 56 goals in all tournaments, nine more than his great rival Ronaldo.

“We were very strong at the back and much better than we have been for a long time, if not we would have been in a lot of trouble as this was one of the toughest games that we had left,” said Barca coach Pep Guardiola.

“The match was decided by the quality of the players.”

Athletic had less than 48 hours to prepare for the match following their 4-2 victory over Schalke in the Europa League and they made several changes, leaving out Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain.

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Guardiola said he would not keep players in reserve with the second leg of their Champions League tie coming up against AC Milan following the 0-0 at the San Siro last Wednesday.

Even so Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol found themselves on the bench.

Defender Jon Aurtenetxe headed a Gerard Pique effort off the line but a goal for Barcelona was on the cards and it arrived through Iniesta after 40 minutes.

Known for crucial goals rather than being a regular scorer he smashed the ball into the roof of the net after being supplied by Messi.

Tello was causing problems for the Athletic defence and he was felled by Javi Martinez in the penalty area after 58 minutes with Messi firing in Barcelona’s second from the spot.

Malaga’s Champions League hopes suffered a blow as they lost 2-0 at home to Real Betis.

Zaragoza moved off the bottom with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon who are now in last place on goal difference with Racing Santander who were beaten 1-0 by Granada.

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