MADRID - Karim Benzema struck a brace in a 3-0 win over Sevilla on Sunday as Real Madrid edged closer to their first Spanish league title in four years. The win gave Real a 10-point lead on arch-rivals Barcelona and will be enough to secure the championship if Barca lose to Rayo Vallecano later Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring at the Bernabeu for Jose Mourinho's side and Benzema added a brace after the interval to put them within touching distance of a first La Liga title since 2008. Real, who were eliminated from the Champions League after a semi-final defeat to Bayern Munich in midweek, took their record breaking haul of league goals for the season to 112.
"It was an important win and the team deserves to be champions as the players have shown their mentality and character," said Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka. Referring to their European exit, he added: "The players went into the game tired and down but they responded well, even though winning the league will not cure anything.
"We will go out looking to win games even when we are the champions, if that happens, as we only have one plan. It will be fantastic to win the league and it is the most important objective at the moment." Mourinho, looking to wrap up the championship as quickly as possible, fielded his strongest side with the only change from the Bayern match being the introduction of Esteban Granero for Sami Khedira.
Real had an early scare when Sevilla defender Federico Fazio drove the ball into the back of the net, but the referee whistled for a foul by Alvaro Negredo on Pepe. Sevilla, who are still in the hunt for a place in Europe next season, have garnered just one point from their last two games and it took no time for Real to quickly assert themselves.
Both Ronaldo and Benzema tested the visitors' defence with a number of dangerous runs and it seemed a matter of when and not if the hosts would score the opener. The breakthrough came after 19 minutes when Benzema supplied Ronaldo in the box, allowing the Portuguese striker to turn inside Jorge Coke before smashing the ball into the corner.
While Real were impressive going forward, they were -- in keeping with their midweek performance against Bayern -- leaving themselves exposed at the back. Thankfully for the champions-in-waiting Sevilla, who are still missing Frederic Kanoute and Manu del Moral, failed to convert their chances.
Former Real player Jose Antonio Reyes shot tamely at Iker Casillas and then both Jesus Navas and Negredo fired wide from excellent positions. Real continued to dominate and Ronaldo was inches away from his second goal moments before the break when, from an indirect free-kick and with several of Sevilla's players creating a defensive wall yards from the goal, his drive came back off the post.
In a four-minute spell shortly after the restart, all chance of a Sevilla fightback was ended by Benzema. Taking advantage of some poor defending, the Frenchman stole in at the far post to roll in an Angel Di Maria cross after Coke mis-kicked in the 48th minute. Four minutes later Benzema made it three when he headed home a Sergio Ramos cross.
Earlier on Saturday night, a strong second half performance from unfancied Levante saw them maintain their push for a place in the Champions League with a 3-1 win over Granada.
At the other end of La Liga, Racing Santander were relegated following a 3-0 defeat by Real Sociedad. Levante, the modest side from Valencia, who are more accustomed to fighting relegation battles, have shown that their promising start to the campaign was no fluke. With just three games to play, they are joint-fourth, level on 52 points with big-spending Malaga who face Valencia later on Sunday. Elsewhere, Mallorca came out on top 3-1 in the mid-table scrap with Getafe.
Real Madrid 3
Real Mallorca 3
Real Sociedad 3
Racing Santander 0
Sporting Gijon 3
Team M W D L GF GA Points
Real Madrid 35 29 4 2 112 30 91
Barcelona 34 25 6 3 97 26 81
Valencia 34 15 10 9 54 42 55
Levante 35 15 7 13 51 48 52
Malaga 34 15 7 12 50 47 52
Athletic Bilbao 34 12 12 10 49 44 48
Atletico Madrid 34 13 9 12 47 42 48
Osasuna 35 11 15 9 39 55 48
Sevilla 35 12 10 13 41 42 46
Real Mallorca 35 12 10 13 39 42 46