Four-star Higuain fires Real top

Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain scored an incredible four goals, including two controversial penalties, as ten-man Real Madrid came from behind three times to defeat Malaga 4-3 on Sunday and go top of the Spanish first division for the first time this season.

Real looked to be heading for an embarassing home defeat to promoted Malaga after Sergio Ramos had been sent off for stamping close to halftime and Antonio Apono had fired Malaga into a 3-2 lead with a 70th-minute penalty. But Higuain, out to impress new Argentina coach Diego Maradona, rescued the champions, scoring the equaliser straight from the kick off and then a dramatic penalty winner on 78 minutes after his initial spot-kick had been saved.

After losing 2-0 to Juventus in their midweek UEFA Champions League home match, the Santiago Bernabeu public wanted a convincing display from their team. They didn't quite get that but the three points will do as Real move a point ahead of rivals Barcelona who can reclaim top spot when they face Valladolid at Camp Nou late on Saturday.

Real coach Bernd Schuster has been criticising referees throughout this season but Real certainly had their slice of fortune against poor Malaga with question marks over both of their penalties.

Scoring three times at Real's ground and having nothing to show for it was heartbreaking for Malaga, who attacked from the opening whistle. Eliseu (6 minutes) and Nabil Baha (18) twice put Malaga ahead only for Higuain to get the champions back in it with a first half brace.

Apono then smashed in a 70th-minute penalty off the underside of the crossbar after Fernando Gago committed a stupid foul.

Malaga were jubilant but Gago's compatriot Higuain got him out of jail scoring straight from the kick-off. Higuain was then judged to have been fouled 12 minutes from time and he stepped up for the pressure penalty.

Malaga goalkeeper Francesc Arnau saved the effort but the ball rebounded straight to Higuain to roll home his fourth goal of the game. The Argentine now has nine goals for the season and he is set for a run in the team with Ruud van Nistelrooy sidelined with a knee injury.

Schuster showed his faith in Higuain, playing him ahead of captain Raul Gonzalez, who was dropped for the Malaga match after a poor display against Juventus.