Football: Triple-top Raul helps Real close Barcelona gap

MADRID, Phil Seery - Captain marvel Raul scored a hat-trick as Real Madrid defeated Sevilla 4-2 on Sunday to cut Barcelona's advantage at the top to four points ahead of next Saturday's 'El Clasico' at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barcelona had dropped two points in a 2-2 draw at Valencia on Saturday and Real capitalised as Raul gave coach Juande Ramos a win on his first return to old club Sevilla.

Football: Triple-top Raul helps Real close Barcelona gap
"It was crucial that we won this match," admitted Ramos. "We have been winning lots of games but not getting any closer and sometimes it seems like hard work.
"Now we have closed to within four points and have home advantage against Barcelona next Saturday."
Brazilian Renato put Sevilla in front on 17 minutes but Raul levelled just before half-time and then scored twice inside three minutes (63, 66) to complete his hat-trick and take his season's tally to 18.
"It was pivotal to score just before the break," explained Ramos. "We took more risks in the second half because nothing less than a victory was good enough."
Diego Capel gave Sevilla a glimmer of hope with an 80th minute strike but Marcelo scored for Real in the dying seconds to make it 4-2.
Sevilla had beaten Real 4-3 at the Bernabeu in Bernd Schuster's final match in charge and since then Ramos has guided the champions back into the title race with 17 victories in 19 games.
Back in mid-December Barcelona had a 12-point buffer after beating Real 2-0 but that has now been sliced to just four points as the two sides prepare to face off again.
For Sevilla it was a fourth straight league loss and Valencia are just a point behind in fourth.
Real had to do without the suspended Pepe who will not play again this season after picking up a ten-game ban for his violent conduct against Getafe.
In the dug-out, Ramos was jeered by Sevilla fans who used to worship him for winning two UEFA Cups and a Kings Cup but later branded him a mercenary when he resigned to join Tottenham in October 2007.
Supporters printed thousands of fake dollar notes bearing Ramos's face alongside a 'Juan Dollar' caption to emphasise their point.
"We are all professionals and I am open to the criticism from the public," said Ramos. "It is just something you have to deal with in football."
On 17 minutes Diego Perotti floated in a great cross with the outside of his foot and Renato glanced in a header to put Sevilla ahead.
All Real's half-chances kept falling to Higuain, able to play after having a suspension overturned, but the Argentine could not find the equaliser.
With seconds until the break Raul levelled with Metzelder crossing across the face of the penalty area for the alert striker to slide home.
Raul struck again on 63 minutes with a left-footed volley and grabbed his treble three minutes later when goalkeeper Andres Palop fumbled Higuain's cross.
Earlier, Villarreal moved a point behind fourth-placed Valencia in the Champions League race with a 2-1 win at Getafe on Sunday.
It was Villarreal's first away win since a 2-1 triumph at Recreativo Huelva at the end of November and coach Manuel Pellegrini was happy to start winning on the road.
"It is a really important win," said Pellegrini. "It has been a while since we won away from home and we are now right in the Champions League battle along with five or so other teams."
Getafe pulled a goal back from the penalty spot late on but ran out of time and continue to languish one point above the drop zone.
Atletico Madrid stayed within three points of Villarreal with a 3-1 home win over strugglers Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Racing Santander had humiliated Atletico 5-1 in mid-week but the capital club bounced back with goals from Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero and Simao, who was also sent off, helping them overcome Sporting.
Gijon, who incredibly still haven't drawn a single game this season with 11 wins and 22 defeats, drop into the bottom three, a point from safety.

Tuesday, April 28th 2009
Phil Seery

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