Cristiano Ronaldo struck eight minutes from time to rescue a point for Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw away to city rivals Atletico yesterday in a typically fiery La Liga derby.
Atletico had fought back to lead 2-1 and were closing in on a first home win against Real in nearly 15 years before Ronaldo pounced on a loose ball and fired into the corner to maintain Real’s three-point advantage over their neighbours at the top.
It was the Portugal forward’s 23rd goal of the campaign and extended Real’s unbeaten run to 28 matches, stretching back to a 2-1 reverse away to champions Barcelona at the end of October.
Atletico forced their way back into the game with the trademark intensity and aggression instilled in them by coach Diego Simeone but Real’s superior quality proved decisive in the second half and earned them a deserved point.
Real have 64 points with 12 matches left, with Atletico second on 61 and Barca, who host promoted Almeria in the late game yesterday, in third on 60.
“The draw leaves us feeling a bit disappointed because in the second half we were clearly dominating and deserved another goal or two,” Real captain Sergio Ramos said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.
“We are still three points clear and we need to keep improving and collecting points,” added the Spain centre back.
Real were ahead after only three minutes at a packed and festive Calderon when Karim Benzema stole in and poked a cross from Angel Di Maria past Thibaut Courtois from close range.
Benzema and Ronaldo, the league’s leading scorer, each tested Courtois before clever work from Atletico’s Turkey playmaker Arda Turan led to the equaliser in the 28th minute.
After twisting and turning on the edge of the Real penalty area, Arda threaded a pass through to Koke and his powerful low shot flew into the corner past Diego Lopez.
Captain Gabi scored the best goal of the game moments before halftime to put the home side ahead, with a 30-metre screamer that seem to deceive Lopez in flight as it rocketed into the net.
Real gradually turned the screw as Atletico tired in the second half and it was little surprise when a defensive lapse led to Ronaldo’s late equaliser.
“I am coming away with a bad taste in my mouth,” Gabi told Canal Plus.
“It was a very open match, with chances for both teams, and I am proud of Atletico Madrid,” he added.
“We wanted to show this intensity and desire to the fans and I think that’s what we did.”
Recent matches between Real and Atletico have been soured by bad blood between some of the players and there was plenty of gamesmanship and play-acting on display.
Pepe threw himself theatrically to the ground after tangling with Atletico’s Diego Godin late in the first half and the referee booked both centre backs.
The match official then sent German Burgos from the bench in the second half for protesting a decision and the Atletico assistant coach lost his cool and had to be restrained by players and coaching staff.
Atletico beat Real 1-0 at the Bernabeu in September and were looking to do the La Liga double over their neighbours for the first time since 1951.
Yesterday’s draw means they have a superior head-to-head record, which will be used to separate the pair should they end the season level on points.