Ronaldo's 15th goal helps Madrid labor to win


MADRID (AP) -Cristiano Ronaldo's 15th goal of the season helped Real Madrid labor to a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Spanish league before its midweek Champions League visit to Borussia Dortmund.

Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot in the 67th minute at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after Gonzalo Higuain opened for the hosts in the 11th with a lofted shot from well outside the area that looped over goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez.

Madrid struggled to string together its attack inside Celta's area and at times looked like the complacent side that started the league so poorly. On Wednesday, it plays at the German champions in the Champions League.

Barcelona can re-establish its eight-point lead over Madrid with a victory at Deportivo La Coruna later Saturday, which would also see it move three points clear of Atletico Madrid atop the standings. Atletico, which has 19 points like Barcelona, is at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Malaga stayed within touch of the Spanish leaders after Joaquin Sanchez scored in a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Real Valladolid as the Costa del Sol club warmed up for its Champions League match against AC Milan with another victory.

Valencia, meanwhile, scored twice in the final three minutes to beat 10-man Athletic Bilbao 3-2 ahead of its Champions League trip to Minsk to face BATE Borisov on Tuesday.

Madrid struggled to find its rhythm at the start until Higuain floated a ball from the left side toward goal that ended up in the far corner to give the hosts confidence.

Ronaldo was certainly a presence in Celta's area but the Portugal forward strayed on a pair of headers from inside the box.

The Galician club - which was bidding to become the first team to win on three straight visits to the Bernabeu, counting its last trip here in 2006 - was dangerous on the counter with Iago Aspas and Enrique de Lucas forcing Iker Casillas into impressive saves as Madrid was seemingly in cruise control at times. Casillas denied substitute Chu-young Park's point-blank header in the closing stages.

Madrid's defense never showed nerves, however, despite Mourinho having to recruit Michael Essien to left back and move Sergio Ramos to the right with Marcelo, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao all missing to injury.

"Perhaps we are a little surprised to be playing like this, but the injuries have forced us to adapt," said Ramos. "Defensively, we played a serious game."

Gustavo Cabral barged into the back of Mesut Oezil as the German streaked through the area to set up Ronaldo's penalty and his league-leading ninth goal.

Malaga rebounded from its first loss in all competitions- to Atletico last round- and is poised to welcome the Italian giants on Wednesday.

Joaquin made up for an earlier penalty miss by latching on to the rebound from Martin Demichelis' saved header in the 87th minute to cap a rally that started with Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's 37th-minute equalizer.

Valladolid had gone ahead through Manucho's ninth-minute strike, but the Angola striker's second booking in the 81st left the visitors with 10 men and the hosts with the advantage as they pressed for a winner.

Malaga is two points behind both Barcelona and Atletico before their eighth-round games.

At Mestalla Stadium, Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz, who played for Valencia the previous two seasons before returning to his boyhood club this summer, netted twice to better Roberto Soldado's penalty and give the Basque side a 2-1 lead by the half-hour mark.

But Bilbao was reduced to 10 men in the 67th when Ander Herrera was shown a direct red card for kicking Tino Costa.

The visitors resisted Valencia's pressure until Costa slotted home in the 88th. Substitute Nelson Valdez then added a header in the 90th from a free kick to seal the dramatic comeback win.

Despite its lackluster start to the season, Valencia remained unbeaten at home, while Bilbao has yet to win on the road.


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