| Real Madridís Ronaldo is congratulated by teammate Roberto Carlos after his opening goal against Athletic Bilbao during their Spanish league match in Madrid on Saturday. (Reuters)
Madrid: World Player of the Year Ronaldo produced a virtuoso performance to steer Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao that sent them top of the Primera Liga on Saturday after Deportivo Coruna were held to a 0-0 draw by lowly Murcia.
The Brazilian striker, who had hit a minor drought after failing to score for three games, produced two brilliant finishes either side of the break and then served up a third for Luis Figo as he turned in a matchwinning performance at the Bernabeu.
Earlier Deportivo, who lost 0-2 at home to Real Mallorca in midweek, turned in a lame performance in their goalless draw against a determined Murcia at the Condomina stadium. Real now lead the table with 23 points from 10 games, one ahead of Deportivo and three clear of Valencia, who make the trip to play Real Mallorca next.
Despite the apparently comfortable scoreline, Bilbao pushed Real hard throughout the 90 minutes and it took a string of stunning reflex saves from íkeeper Iker Casillas to keep the champions in the game early on and deny the visitors a deserved goal.
David Beckham, returning to the starting line-up after two games out with a pulled hamstring, showed little sign of his injury as he too produced a fine performance at the heart of the Real midfield.
The England captain sprayed a series of pin-point passes around the pitch and came close to scoring with a well-struck dipping free-kick in the second half.
But the former Manchester United player was fortunate to stay on the pitch when he escaped with just a booking ó his third in 10 games ó after bringing down Andoni Iraola as the Bilbao defender raced towards the Real area in the final minute of the half.
Bilbao made a sprightly start at the Bernabeu and created two clear scoring chances in the opening 10 minutes, but sharp saves from Casillas denied the Basques an early lead.
The Real íkeeper made a great point-blank save to block a bullet header from Santi Ezquerro on five minutes and then got down quickly to turn away a Jonan Garcia shot after a lightning break initiated by pacy winger Joseba Etxeberria.
The two sides proceeded to trade attacks in a pulsating first half, Casillas coming to Realís rescue twice more when he saved an Etxeberria effort with his foot and then tipped a goal-bound Tiko free-kick over the bar.
But it was the deadly finishing of Ronaldo that finally broke the deadlock. Lurking inside the area, the Brazilian controlled a loose ball with his shoulder, turned sharply and sent a cracking right-footed shot fizzing inside the far post on 34 minutes.
Bilbao continued to press after the break, but once again it was Ronaldoís contribution that proved decisive. He fended off three Bilbao players with a dazzling jinking run before finishing off with a perfectly placed shot from the edge of the area ó this time with his left foot ó to make it 2-0 on 55 minutes.
The Brazilian, who now tops the scoring charts with eight goals, completed a vintage performance when he unselfishly set up Realís third for Figo. Skipping past one defender, he then left another on his back as he checked towards goal before laying the ball off to the Portuguese international who slotted home into the untended net.
A stunning 84th minute volley from Marco Di Vaio gave Italian champions Juventus a 1-1 draw at AC Milan and kept the pair neck and neck at the top of Serie A.
In a rematch of last seasonís all-Italian Champions League final, Milan, who won that final on penalties, had gone ahead in the 65th minute through Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson. The draw leaves the pair level at the top on 20 points each, four ahead of Lazio who kept in touch with a 2-1 win at Udinese.
The clash of two teams with more league titles than the rest of Serie A combined was a much more passionate and entertaining affair than the goalless stalemate at Old Trafford in May. While Milan will be disappointed to have seen victory slip from their grasp six minutes from the end, their rivals fully merited at least a point. (Reuters)