European Football Roundup: Real made to wait, Juventus on course
LONDON: Real Madrid’s La Liga celebrations had to be put on hold after Barcelona won 7-0 at Rayo Vallecano but Real can clinch the title with victory at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday. In England, Champions League finalists Chelsea kept up their momentum with a 6-1 thrashing of Queens Park Rangers thanks in large part to a hat-trick from revitalised Fernando Torres. Porto retained the Portuguese title, Partizan Belgrade clinched a fifth successive Serbian league crown and Zenit St Petersburg claimed the Russian championship.
Spain: Leaders Real Madrid recovered from their painful Champions League exit to sweep aside Sevilla 3-0 at home and moved to within three points of a first La Liga title in four years. Karim Benzema scored a brace and Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the other to take his league tally up to 43 this season, but Barcelona kept their title celebrations on hold for a few more days at least with a 7-0 rout of Rayo Vallecano. Lionel Messi scored twice, to join Ronaldo on 43 goals, and had a hand in four more including a double for Pedro as the Catalans also shrugged off a Champions League exit and the news that coach Pep Guardiola is to leave at the end of the campaign. Real have 91 points, seven ahead of Barca, and will clinch the title with victory at Bilbao.
England: With leaders Manchester United and Manchester City meeting on Monday in a clash that could go a long way to deciding the destiny of the Premier League title, the weekend focus was on the battle for European places. Third-placed Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Stoke City, despite a 28th league goal of the season for Robin van Persie. Tottenham Hotspur moved up to fourth after easing past Blackburn Rovers 2-0, ahead of Newcastle whose run of six successive wins ended abruptly in a 4-0 reverse at Wigan. Fernando Torres hit his first Chelsea hat-trick as the Champions League finalists, in sixth, routed Queens Park Rangers 6-1. Luis Suarez warmed up for next week’s FA Cup final by scoring three in Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Norwich City.
France: Paris St Germain’s titles hopes suffered a major blow when they lost 2-1 at Lille to stay five points behind Ligue 1 leaders Montpellier with four games left. Montpellier took a big step toward their first league crown when they won 1-0 at Toulouse to top the table on 72 points. Qatari-backed PSG remained second on 67 points, two ahead of champions Lille who moved back into contention for automatic Champions League place. Seven-times champions Olympique Lyon clinched their first trophy since 2008 when they won the French Cup final 1-0 against third-tier Quevilly.
Germany: The Bundesliga’s leading scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar netted twice and Raul was also on target in his last home appearance as Schalke 04 thumped Hertha Berlin 4-0 to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Schalke guaranteed third place in the Bundesliga after Borussia Moenchengladbach, the only team who could have overhauled them, were held 0-0 at home by Augsburg. Forward Lucas Barrios, left on the bench for most of the season, scored a hat-trick as Borussia Dortmund, crowned champions last week, celebrated with a 5-2 win at relegated Kaiserslautern. Champions League finalists Bayern Munich beat VfB Stuttgart 2-0 to consolidate second place.
Italy: Mirko Vucinic scored twice to keep Juventus on track for the scudetto following a 4-0 away thumping of almost-relegated Novara. Antonio Cassano scored for the first time since heart surgery in second-placed AC Milan’s 4-1 win at Siena. The victory kept the champions three points behind Juve with three games left.
Portugal: Porto clinched their 26th Portuguese Premier League title thanks to 2-0 win at Maritimo as rivals Benfica slipped to a 2-2 draw at Rio Ave. Burly Brazil winger Hulk fired in two penalties while Benfica failed to retain a 2-1 advantage earned with goals from Spanish forward Nolito and Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo, allowing Rio Ave to level in the 51st minute. Benfica’s draw left Porto with a six-point advantage with only two matches left. The “Dragons” have a better head-to-head record.
Serbia: Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade won a record fifth successive league title and their 24th overall with three games to spare after a 4-0 win at Borac Cacak. The victory left Partizan 12 points clear of traditional city rivals Red Star and gave their Israeli manager Avram Grant the first taste of success since he left Chelsea after guiding them to the Champions League final in 2008.
Russia: Ten-man Zenit St Petersburg beat Dynamo Moscow 2-1 to claim a second consecutive Russian Premier League title with three games to spare. Luciano Spalletti’s team, backed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, only needed a draw in the top-of-the-table clash to clinch a third domestic title since 2007 and fourth in total. reuters