MADRID, April 18 (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb backheel late in the game earned Real Madrid a point in a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Wednesday in La Liga.
The Portuguese forward flicked Luka Modric’s low drive into the back of the net in the 87th minute with a deft touch, his 24th league goal of the season cancelling out a first-half chipped goal from Inaki Williams for the visitors.
Real were set for defeat until Ronaldo, who also hit the bar with a header early on, struck with his 24th league goal of the season to snatch the draw that leaves them third on 68 points after 33 games.
They are three points behind their cross-city rivals, second-placed Atletico Madrid, who play their game in hand at Real Sociedad on Thursday. Barcelona lead the way on 83 points, 12 clear of Atletico.
Raul Garcia wasted an excellent chance to double Bilbao’s lead before Ronaldo’s goal, striking the crossbar with Keylor Navas out of position after a scramble in the box.
Bilbao came close to earning their first victory at the Bernabeu since 2005 but Ronaldo denied them, finally netting for Madrid after the hosts wasted a string of chances.
Athletic goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga made some superb saves to deny Raphael Varane and Marco Asensio, but stood no chance with Ronaldo’s equaliser.
While Madrid were on top during the game, it seemed hearts and minds may have already been drifting towards next Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg clash against Bayern Munich in Germany.
Coach Zinedine Zidane picked a strong side, with his team not due to play their league match against Sevilla on the weekend because the Andalusians are playing in the King’s Cup final against Barcelona.
However, despite Madrid’s line up, which saw Ronaldo return after missing the 2-1 win at Malaga on Sunday, Los Blancos were impotent until Ronaldo’s decisive late contribution.
Earlier on Wednesday, fourth-placed Valencia lost 2-1 at home against Getafe and had Dani Parejo sent off for an elbow on Jorge Molina.
The defeat leaves Valencia three points behind Real Madrid. (Writing by Rik Sharma Editing by Ian Chadband)