Title race on as Real go a point behind Barcelona

MADRID, April 18, 2010 (AFP) - Real Madrid striking duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain grabbed a goal apiece as Real moved to within one point of leaders Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 home win over third-placed Valencia on Sunday to set up a thrilling finale to the title race.

Barcelona's 0-0 draw at neighbours Espanyol 24 hours earlier had given Real a chance to close the gap and Real capitalised on the slip with Higuain netting his 25th goal of the season after 25 minutes before Ronaldo finished the game off on 77 minutes with his 20th goal of the season.

Real Madrid's Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain (L) celebrates with Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring during the Spanish League football match Real Madrid against Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on April 18, 2010. AFP photo

With five games left Real are just a point behind their arch rivals although if the two teams finish level on points Barcelona, who face Inter Milan on Tuesday in the semi-final of the Champions League, will win the title due to their superior head-to-head record.

"Barcelona still have the advantage but being second with 83 points is good and they have the pressure to deal with knowing we are close," said Guti.

"As far as the Champions League I have always said that I want Barcelona to lose and besides I have some great friends at Inter."

It was a 16th league home win of the season from 17 games by Real - with a defeat to Barcelona the only blemish - and Higuain is just two goals behind compatriot Lionel Messi who has scored 27 for Barcelona to lead the race for the 'Pichichi' or top-scorer crown.

Valencia, a massive 24 points behind Real in third, are five points ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla following their eighth defeat of the campaign and they will rue David Silva's shot hitting the post minutes before Ronaldo grabbed the second goal.

There was no Kaka again for Real with the Brazilian still not fully fit while Sergio Ramos continued in central defence in the absence of Ezequiel Garay.

For Valencia the spotlight was on midfielder Silva with the Spanish international strongly linked with big-spending Real in the local media.

With eight minutes gone Rafael van der Vaart, who scored the winner in the 2-1 win over Almeria in midweek, shot wide with his weaker right foot.

Guti should have scored on 19 minutes after a great cut-back from Ronaldo but the midfielder pulled his left-footed shot wide.

It was backs to the wall for Valencia and Higuain struck on 25 minutes with a neat turn to beat his man before dispatching past former Real goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez.

Four minutes later Higuain set up van der Vaart but the Dutchman could not apply the finishing touch with defender Alexis Delgado blocking the effort on the line.

Alexis was then in action at the other end on 33 minutes with his header forcing Iker Casillas into a scrambling save.

Brazilian Marcelo forced save from Cesar early in the second half as Real continued to dominate.

Valencia stayed in the game, however, and Silva thumped a brilliant 25 yard shot off the left hand post on 74 minutes with international team-mate Casillas well beaten.

Four minutes later Marcelo raced down the left and set up Ronaldo for the decisive second goal to end Valencia's resistance.

Elsewhere Tenerife striker Juan Nino scored a hat-trick to help the promoted side defeat European hopefuls Getafe 3-2 on Sunday and move one point from safety with five games left.

Getafe went ahead through Pedro Leon on 10 minutes but Nino, top-scorer in the second division last season, replied on 30 minutes with his first goal and then scored twice inside seven minutes (69 min, 76) to complete his treble.

Tenerife lie third from bottom but are now just a point behind 17th placed Malaga while Getafe fall two points off the top six.

Athletic Bilbao missed the chance to go above Villarreal into sixth following a 0-0 home draw with strugglers Real Zaragoza on Sunday.

Bilbao, now level on points with Villarreal, had won five out of the last six at their San Mames home but came up against a resilient Zaragoza side who are two points above the bottom three.

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