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Ronaldo stars as Real tops Bilbao

CRISTIANO Ronaldo turned into Real Madrid’s playmaker by setting up two goals to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Saturday and keep on track to reclaim the Spanish league title.

Ronaldo passed for Karim Benzema to open the scoring at San Mames Stadium.

Bilbao equalized through Aritz Aduriz’s header in the 65th, but three minutes later Ronaldo flicked on a corner kick for Casemiro to finish off.

“We won at a very difficult ground. We had to dig in but we played with real character,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Madrid, which hasn’t won the league since 2012, leads second-placed Barcelona by five points.

Barcelona was to host Valencia yesterday.

Madrid has a game in hand.

The loss ended Bilbao’s unbeaten home streak at 13 games in the league, one short of the club record in 1992.

Madrid spent long stretches in its half absorbing Bilbao’s pressure brought by wingers Inaki Williams and Inigo Leque.

But Madrid’s efficiency proved the difference. As Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde put it: “They beat us with two moments of brilliance.”

Midfielder Casemiro played a part in Benzema’s goal when he spotted Ronaldo breaking down the left. Ronaldo received his long pass and squared the ball for Benzema to slot in.

Benzema moved into the top-10 La Liga scorers in Madrid’s history, with 119 goals in 237 matches. Ronaldo has the club record of 280.

Madrid had little trouble repelling Bilbao’s crosses until Williams forced Keylor Navas to make a difficult save early in the second half.

Shortly after, Williams sped past Marcelo and crossed for Raul Garcia to head the ball back to the center of the six-yard box where Aduriz nodded it home.

Bilbao’s push was deflated by Ronaldo, however, when he headed on a corner kick for Casemiro to control and tap in uncontested.

“I know what my duties in the team are and that’s not scoring goals because there are more gifted players than me playing further forward,” Casemiro said.

“Having said that, if I can score, then all the better.”

Elsewhere, it was Alaves 1, Real Sociedad 0; Eibar, Espanyol 1 and Real Betis 2, Osasuna 0.

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