MADRID, Spain, May 3 – Real Madrid claimed their first Spanish title in four years, ending the reign of bitter rivals Barcelona to boot, as they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 on Wednesday for what is their 32nd league crown.
Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo scored the goals to give Jose Mourinho a record-breaking four titles in four different countries and the victory required with two games remaining.
Mourinho’s first Spanish league title ended Barca’s run of three successive league titles in his second season at the club.
Madrid needed to win after Barcelona had earlier beaten Malaga 4-1 with goals from Carles Puyol and a hat-trick from Lionel Messi that saw him break Gerd Muller’s record for goals in a single European season.
Afterwards the players jubilantly celebrated on the San Mames pitch as the first visiting team to ever win a title in Athletic’s stadium.
“It’s been a long hard season but we’ve finally done it and I just hope it’s the first of many with this young squad, we dedicate it to the fans,” said captain Iker Casillas on the final whistle.
“We’re very happy,” said Sergio Ramos, who last Wednesday had experienced vastly different emotions when he missed a penalty in the Champions League semi-final shootout defeat by Bayern Munich.
“It’s been a tough league and Barca were an extraordinary rival, we’ll enjoy it now and celebrate it with our fans.”
Higuain was quick to dismiss any talk for now about his future, after being linked to Paris Saint-Germain in the last week.
“It’s been a fight week-in, week-out to win this league. I was happy to start tonight and, after we’ve gone three years without winning it, I think we deserved it this season,” said the Argentinian.
Mourinho again refused to face the Spanish press after the game but spoke to Real Madrid TV.
“It’s been a great title for us, no-one has given us anything all season, we’ve fought from start to finish, the players have been fantastic and deserve it,” said the 49-year-old.
“I’ve won titles before in Portugal, Italy and England but this has been the most difficult of all. I think even Barca, after they’ve won three titles in a row, know that we deserve this one,” he added.
Madrid looked to have got the perfect start when they were awarded a penalty on 11 minutes for a clear handball by Javi Martinez.
However, Ronaldo shot tamely down the centre and it was easily saved by Gorka Iraizoz — it was his second penalty miss in a week after last Wednesday’s Champions League shoot-out against Bayern Munich.
The Portuguese star need not have worried, five minutes later ‘los blancos’ were ahead when Higuain hit an unstoppable shot from 20 yards.
At the other end Athletic did not have as much luck when the referee turned down claims for what looked to be another clear handball, this time by Sami Khedira.
The title then became a virtual certainty on 20 minutes when Ronaldo found Ozil with a sweeping cross from the right-wing for the German midfielder to double the lead.
The home side kept up an aerial bombardment of Madrid’s defence throughout.
Inigo Perez provoked a great save from Casillas before Mikel San Jose followed-up only to strike the bar on the stroke of half-time.
Five minutes after the interval Ronaldo headed home a corner to add the third and his 44th league goal of the season.
Athletic continued to look for a consolation goal roared on by a partisan home crowd, but they were reduced to 10 men on 73 minutes when Martinez was sent-off for a second yellow card after another handball.
Messi’s hat-trick against Malaga included two penalties and took his total for the season to 68, one better than that mustered by Muller while playing for Bayern Munich in the 1972-73 season.
However, not even that record will have softened the blow of missing out on the title and the penalty that he missed last week against Chelsea in the 2-2 draw which saw them relinquish their Champions League crown as they went out 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals.