Madrid win sets up clasico duel

MADRID - Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored in a 2-0 victory away to Racing Santander at the weekend to ensure Real Madrid hold top spot in La Liga before next weekend's visit of title rivals Barcelona.

MADRID - Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored in a 2-0 victory away to Racing Santander at the weekend to ensure Real Madrid hold top spot in La Liga before next weekend's visit of title rivals Barcelona.

Ronaldo netted from the penalty spot in the first half and Higuain raced clear to double the lead in the 76th minute, but there was little else of note in a low-key game.

Real moved on to 77 points with eight matches left to play, ahead of Barca on goal difference, after the champions swept aside sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao 4-1 on Saturday.

With Real notching up their 12th straight league victory and Barca having only lost once all season, next Saturday's "Clasico" at the Bernabeu is being seen as crucial to the outcome of the title.

The head-to-head record between the sides decides first place if they end up level on points, and Barca hold the edge after a 1-0 win at the Nou Camp in November.

Ronaldo was brought down as he dribbled into the area after 23 minutes at the Sardinero, and the Portuguese forward scored from the ensuing penalty.

Earlier, Spain striker David Villa scored twice in the last five minutes to help keep Valencia on course for next season's Champions League with a 3-0 win at home to Osasuna.

Third-placed Valencia have 56 points from 30 games, eight ahead of Sevilla in fourth, and moved a step closer to securing Spain's last automatic Champions League qualification place.

Real Mallorca needed a late goal from Pierre Webo to grab a 1-1 draw away to Almeria, which put them level on 48 points with Sevilla, but fifth due to their inferior head-to-head record. Villarreal are seventh on 43 points after a 2-0 win away to troubled Real Valladolid, secured with goals from Angel Lopez and Brazil striker Nilmar. - Reuters

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