Liga - Madrid handed win at Betis
A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo fired Real Madrid to a 3-2 win over Real Betis in a fantastic Liga match in Seville, although Jose Mourinho's side escaped two penalty appeals when their players appeared to handball.
A barn-storming match wowed a packed Estadio Benito Villamarin as both sides threw caution to the wind, playing the typical Spanish game at a breakneck English tempo.
There was controversy though as both Xabi Alonso and - deep into injury time - Ramos appeared to handle in the box, the substitute referee waving appeals away.
Madrid's win puts them 13 points clear atop La Liga, while Betis stay mid table.
Ronaldo drew first blood with a fizzing low drive that Fabricio tipped away, but it was the hosts who took the lead when Jorge Molina rammed home a rising, unstoppable finish after a lovely counter attack saw Ruben Castro take down Nacho’s cross with a sublime first touch before offloading a delicate through ball.
Livewire forward Castro was proving to be a menace, wriggling away from two challenges before lobbing Iker Casillas but sending it over, while Madrid were finding it tough to get past the combative Paulao and Iriney.
But the visitors did draw level on 24 minutes when Higuain smashed a clinical finish past Fabricio after taking Mesut Ozil’s pass and holding off Jose Dorado’s challenge.
It was the Argentine’s 20th goal of the season in all competitions and 17th in La Liga, but Betis were not disheartened as they went for Madrid with almost reckless abandon.
The best chances fell to Castro, who slipped at the death after dribbling clear of Sergio Ramos, and Salva Sevilla, who rattled the crossbar with a swerving free-kick.
Real, meanwhile, had opportunities of their own, Higuain volleying wide on the counter and Ronaldo denied from point-blank range by a jaw-dropping Fabricio save.
Betis had been the better side so it was inevitable that, seven minutes into the second half, Jose Mourinho’s side took the lead for the first time.
It came about from a poor header by Iriney, who was unable to properly block Mesut Ozil’s lofted ball: Marcelo latched on to it, playing a short cross to Ronaldo, who stayed level with the last defender and poked home a low finish.
Betis were level almost immediately, Montero with a cracking low finish after Madrid failed to clear a corner.
It was the Ecuador international’s first goal for Betis, and he almost got a second when Casillas pulled off a fine double save.
The match was still being played at speeds that would be illegal in some European countries, with Fabricio denying Marcelo with a flying save.
Then came the first penalty appeal, when Alonso appeared to stick out an arm into Nacho’s cross. The referee, who had replaced his injured predecessor at half-time, waved appeals away.
Soon afterwards Madrid had bagged their winner when, after Fabricio had pulled out a top-drawer save to deny Ramos’s deflected header, Ronaldo lay in wait to thrash home the finish.
There were still 20-odd minutes of joy left, Ronaldo firing just wide from an angle in the best chance before a crazed period of injury time.
Betis had thrown the kitchen sink – and keeper Fabricio – up front, winning a corner in the third and final minute of injury time.
It was only half-cleared, and the chance seemed to have gone as Montero took an age to shoot off the loose ball: when he did unleash a speedy drive, it spun up via Marcelo – who also possibly handled – into the outstretched arm and leg of Ramos.
The ball may also have hit the Spain defender’s thigh but his arm was out and it looked a certain spot-kick: the ref hesitated, waved play on and blew the final whistle and Madrid clung on to move 13 points clear of Barcelona, who play Racing Santander on Sunday.