Outrageous Ronaldo sees off Rayo
Rayo Vallecano were left to rue a glut of missed opportunities as Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant backheel earned Primera Division leaders Real Madrid victory at Vallecas. Piti struck the post and Michu was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Sergio Ramos in the first half but, for all the hosts' pressing, it was the visitors who took the lead early in the second period as Ronaldo skilfully backheeled in from ten yards after Rayo had failed to clear Mesut Ozil's corner.
Michu missed another great chance when he blazed over after being played in by Diego Costa, and his day was summed up two minutes from time when he was sent off for a tackle from behind on Sami Khedira. Madrid were aiming for their seventh consecutive league victory but it was the home team who had the better of an intense first half.
Jorge Pulido scooped over from a free-kick before Ronaldo fired two warning shots just wide midway through the half. Rayo had a great chance to open the scoring on 38 minutes as Piti controlled Jose Maria Movilla's ball over the top, turned inside Alvaro Arbeloa and sent a volley crashing off the inside of the post.
Minutes later Michu had an opportunity for the hosts but Ramos recovered just in time to prod the ball behind for a corner when the midfielder seemed certain to score. The opening period ended with chants of "yes we can" from the home fans, but within eight minutes of the restart that belief had been dented. Ronaldo collected a loose ball inside the area and fooled everyone by backheeling the ball through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner.
Rayo keeper Joel then kept his side in the game on two occasions as he parried a fierce Ronaldo free-kick and blocked at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain. The hosts should have taken advantage of those saves when Costa pounced on slack play by Ramos and squared for Michu, but he skewed over with the goal at his mercy.
Jose Manuel Casado was next to threaten an equaliser, his shot from 40 yards forcing Iker Casillas into a remarkable flying save. Substitute Jose Maria Callejon should have sealed all three points with nine minutes remaining but he could only guide Ronaldo's brilliant through-ball wide, and two minutes later Joel did well again to turn away a dipping Ronaldo free-kick.
Michu's misery was complete when he saw red with two minutes remaining for a wild lunge on Khedira. Rayo still nearly got the point their performance deserved, but Emiliano Armenteros somehow failed to make contact with the goal gaping from two yards out. However, Madrid saw out the final moments to increase their lead over Barcelona provisionally to 13 points ahead of the champions' clash with Atletico Madrid later this evening.