February 18, 2018 / 7:12 PM / 3 months ago

Real stage comeback at Betis, Costa strikes in Atletico win

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid mounted a stirring second-half comeback helped by Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos to win 5-3 at Real Betis in a thrilling La Liga game on Sunday, demonstrating their awesome power in attack as well as their vulnerabilities.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Real Betis vs Real Madrid - Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville, Spain - February 18, 2018 Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in action REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Second-placed Atletico Madrid earlier won 2-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao as they cut the gap behind leaders Barcelona back to seven points after Diego Costa scored his first league goal in six weeks to finish off the resilient visitors.

Marco Asensio headed Real, who are fourth, in front after 11 minutes but Aissa Mandi nodded an equaliser in the 33rd before the visitors’ Nacho Fernandez diverted a fumbled Keylor Navas save into his own net to give Betis the lead four minutes later.

A party atmosphere had gripped the Benito Villamarin stadium but locally-born Real captain Ramos punctured the mood, as he has done so often in recent years, making it 2-2 with a towering header from a corner five minutes into the second half.

Gareth Bale then spurned two good chances and it was left to hot-shot winger Asensio to put Real back in front with a strike across goal to complete a blistering counter-attack.

Ronaldo then looked to have sealed the win for Real with a net-busting strike from a tight angle in the 65th.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Real Betis vs Real Madrid - Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville, Spain - February 18, 2018 Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas saves from Real Betis' Joaquin (not pictured) REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Substitute Sergio Leon pulled a goal back for Betis in the 85th minute to set up a tense finish but Real substitute Karim Benzema pounced in added time for Madrid’s 13th goal in three games to seal the three points, leaving Betis in ninth.

Real have 45 points from 23 games, 17 behind runaway leaders Barcelona, although they can climb above Valencia into third place if they win their game in hand at Leganes on Wednesday.

CRAZY GAME

“It was an end-to-end game, a crazy game but everyone likes games like that,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters.

Slideshow (9 Images)

“We were up against opponents that are playing fantastic at the moment and we’re happy with the result in the end. I won’t think too much about the three goals we conceded, but instead about the five we scored.”

Real have had one of their worst seasons in recent memory but have returned to their ruthless best in their last three games, particularly in attack, hammering Real Sociedad 5-2 in their previous league game and then beating high-flying Paris St Germain 3-1 in their Champions League last-16 first leg.

Zidane made five changes from the team that started against PSG, bringing in Bale, Lucas Vazquez, Asensio and Mateo Kovacic for Luka Modric, Benzema, Isco and the injured Toni Kroos.

“We started the game very well then we sat back and when we did that it was a different game. The second half was completely different, we were spectacular,” he added.

E\rlier, Diego Simeone’s Atletico side were made to fight for victory in a typically physical encounter with Bilbao but French forward Kevin Gameiro broke the Basque side’s resolve in the 67th minute with a low finish into the far bottom corner.

Costa, who missed the 4-1 win at FC Copenhagen in the Europa League last 32 tie in midweek with a knock, was denied a penalty in the first half but sealed the win with a near-post finish in the 80th after latching on to a through ball from Gameiro.

The former Chelsea striker had been sent off for jumping into the stand to celebrate with Atletico fans after netting his last league goal against Getafe on Jan. 6 and toned down his celebration this time as he had already been booked.

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris

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