Ronaldo hat trick eases Madrid past Sevilla
By Kieran Canning,AFP
February 11, 2013, 12:52 am TWN
MADRID -- Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 20th hat trick as a Real Madrid player as the Spanish champions cruised to a 4-1 victory over Sevilla on Saturday.
Ronaldo was even involved in the goal he didn't score as he squared for Karim Benzema to open the scoring on 18 minutes before smashing in his first of the evening eight minutes later.
And the former Manchester United man warmed up for Wednesday's meeting with his old club in the Champions League in perfect fashion as he scored twice more from close range in the first 14 minutes of the second half.
Madrid had to be play the final 24 minutes with 10 men though as Gonzalo Higuain saw a needless second yellow card for a late challenge on Fernando Navarro.
But despite a late consolation goal from Manu del Moral they comfortably held on to cut the gap on Barcelona at the top of the table to 13 points.
Jose Mourinho had taken the chance to rest a number of key players including Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil with midweek's Champions League duties in mind and it was one of those who were handed a rare start in Kaka who shone early on.
The Brazilian had an early effort well held by Beto in the Sevilla goal before only another fine intervention by the keeper stopped Ronaldo converting Kaka's cut-back moments later.
Luka Modric then saw an effort curl just wide but, despite some nice play in possession by the visitors, the opening goal was coming for Madrid and it duly arrived when Benzema was left with the easiest finishes from a yard out after Ronaldo's driven cross had rebounded for the Frenchman off Fernando Navarro.
Kaka then had another shot saved by Beto before Ronaldo took centre-stage to double the hosts' advantage as he cut inside onto his left foot and thumped a rasping shot into the far corner of the net.
Sevilla refused to give in though and had a number of half-chances to pull one back before the break as Federico Fazio headed over when unmarked from a corner before Diego Lopez was forced into a sharp save low to his right by Jose Antonio Reyes.
If it hadn't been for Beto though the Andalusians could have gone in further behind at half-time as the Portuguese keeper just managed to keep out a swerving Ronaldo free-kick before getting down well to hold a Sergio Ramos header.
There was nothing Beto could do 38 seconds after the restart though as poor defending from Fazio allowed Ronaldo to latch onto a long ball and fire low into the corner.
The Portuguese captain soon had his 36th goal of the season as a classic counter-attack from Mourinho's men saw Ronaldo feed Higuain and the former converted the Argentine's low cross at the back post.
Alvaro Morata replaced Ronaldo as Mourinho decided to keep his star man fresh for Wednesday.
However, a fine evening for the champions was soured in the final quarter.
After Higuain had been sent off, Sevilla had a number of chances and eventually got the goal their efforts deserved when Moral fired an angled drive into Lopez's bottom left-hand corner three minutes from time.