|Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal celebrates his goal at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)|
Ronaldo moved one goal ahead of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa as the competition’s top scorer by finding the net in the 82nd minute and again in stoppage time from a cross by substitute Gareth Bale on his return from a three-week injury layoff.
Celta’s attack, led by midfielder Rafina Alcantara, created the clearest chances of the match until Benzema broke through from close range in the 67th with his ninth goal in league play this campaign.
Madrid’s win after the league’s two-week winter break left it five points behind Barcelona and Atletico, who play each other in the next round in the Spanish capital.
“In the first half we were a little slow and the team wasn’t well balanced,” said Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti. “They had too many counterattacks. (But) it’s normal after the Christmas break. In the second half we played with more intensity.”
The Santiago Bernabeu held a minute of silence before kickoff in honor of Portuguese football star Eusebio, who died on Sunday. His countryman Ronaldo turned his gaze upward while locked in arms with his teammates. Hours before in Lisbon, tens of thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to Eusebio.
Celta, coached by former Madrid and Barcelona player Luis Enrique, played the hosts to a standstill in the first half while enjoying the best scoring opportunities.
Striker Charles had a great look six minutes in but failed to beat goalkeeper Diego Lopez one-on-one, and Rafina, younger brother of Bayern Munich’s Thiago, had a shot that looked goal-bound when it deflected off a defender in the 37th.
Bale had been warming up on the touchline since the half-hour mark, and coach Carlo Ancelotti sent him on in the 65th.
Charles wasted Rafina’s through ball moments later by sending his chip shot well wide, and soon the game swung in the hosts’ favor when Benzema fended off his marker and redirected Jese Rodriguez’s short pass into the net.
“The truth is we had problems in the first half, but I think you could see the change after Bale and I went on,” Jese said.
With Celta still threatening to equalize, Ronaldo charged forward to meet Dani Carvajal’s cross and sweep it home.
Ronaldo struck again in added time, banging in a cross from Bale to complete his brace a week before FIFA announces the Ballon d’Or winner. Ronaldo is a finalist along with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery of Bayern.
“They have some of the best players in the world, and they punish you if you give them half a chance,” Rafina said.
The defeat pushed Celta down into the relegation zone.
Later, Villarreal visits Rayo Vallecano.
MILAN (AP) ― Kaka scored his 100th goal for AC Milan on Monday to help it to a much-needed 3-0 win over Atalanta in Serie A, and Napoli beat Sampdoria 2-0 to close the gap on second-place Roma.
Kaka, who is in his second spell at Milan, scored twice to take his tally to 101 goals for the club. Teenage striker Bryan Cristante scored the third in his first start.
“I don’t know how to explain the emotion of having scored 101 goals with Milan,” Kaka said. “Every goal has its own feeling and waiting for one always causes the usual anxiety. I was waiting for this one for a few matches. I hoped it would arrive in the derby, like my first goal 10 years ago. It’s still a crazy feeling. I am really happy to have started 2014 like this.”
In the early match, Dries Mertens scored twice to help Napoli move two points behind Roma, which lost to Juventus on Sunday.
Also, Luca Toni scored twice as newly-promoted Hellas Verona won 3-1 at Udinese, while Edy Reja steered Lazio to a 1-0 victory over Inter Milan in his first match back in charge.
In other matches, it was: Parma 3, Torino 1; Catania 2, Bologna 0; and Genoa 2, Sassuolo 0.