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Atletico inch closer to glory

Madrid: Atletico Madrid moved a step closer to an unlikely Spanish title triumph when they battled back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 win at fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday.

The hard-fought victory only the second home defeat for Bilbao this season, maintained Atletico’s one-point lead over champions Barcelona, who won 1-0 at Espanyol in the earlier kick-off thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty.

Third-placed Real Madrid avoided a third successive defeat when La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 28th goal of the campaign and Gareth Bale struck twice in a 5-0 stroll at home to city neighbours Rayo Vallecano.

Atletico have 76 points with seven games left, equalling their tally from last season when they finished third, while Barca, who host the Madrid club in their Champions League quarter final first leg on Tuesday, are on 75.

Looking to bounce back after defeats at home to Barca in last weekend’s ‘Clasico’ and at Sevilla on Wednesday, Real have 73 points.

Atletico have about a fifth of the resources of wealthy Barca and Real but under inspirational coach Diego Simeone they are mounting the first genuine challenge to the dominance of Spain’s big two since Valencia won the title 10 years ago.

They fell behind in the sixth minute when Bilbao’s Iker Muniain raced clear and sent a brilliant lobbed effort over goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into the net.

Diego Costa levelled in the 22nd, when Koke intercepted a stray pass in midfield and sent the Brazil-born forward clear to score past Gorka Iraizoz before Koke grabbed the winner 10 minutes after halftime when he nodded in a Filipe Luis centre.

At a rain-lashed Bernabeu, Bale played Ronaldo in to open the scoring in the 15th minute against 13th-placed Rayo and the Portugal forward set up Dani Carvajal for the second 10 minutes after the break.

Bale got his first of the night with a tap-in from Angel Di Maria’s cross in the 68th, sprinted clear to score a second two minutes later and substitute Alvaro Morata curled in a superb fifth for the home side in the 78th. (Reuters)