Football: Ronaldo fires Madrid to within a point of Barca

MADRID (AFP) - Cristiano Ronaldo took his tally for the season to 49 as Real Madrid cut the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to just a point with a comfortable 3-0 win over Eibar.

Ronaldo opened the scoring with his first free-kick goal for nearly a year before Javier Hernandez crowned a rare start with the second before half-time.

Madrid eased up after the break ahead of their Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid in midweek, but there was still time for Jese Rodriguez to fire home a third eight minutes from time.

Barcelona face a stiff test if they are to regain their four-point lead at the top as they travel to Sevilla later on Saturday.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti had handed outings to Hernandez, Jese, Asier Illarramendi and Keylor Navas, making six changes from Wednesday's 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos were out suspended, whilst Gareth Bale missed the game through injury.

The hosts took their time to get going, but were only denied the opener in incredible fashion on 19 minutes as Sergio Ramos' initial shot came off the bar, Isco's follow-up effort then came off both posts and Hernandez was flagged offside as he fired in the rebound.

Madrid only had to wait four more minutes to make the breakthrough as Ronaldo's swerving free-kick flummoxed Xabi Irureta to end a run of 56 attempts at goal from free-kicks without scoring for the World Player of the Year.

The Portugal captain should have had a second moments later as he sliced Hernandez's fine low cross wide at the end of a lightning quick counter-attack from the European champions.

Hernandez then got the goal his performance deserved as the Manchester United loanee headed Alvaro Arbeloa's cross into the far corner.

Irureta made amends for his earlier mistake by making a fine save to deny Ronaldo low to his left just before half-time and also showed good hands to trap Luka Modric's volley soon after the restart.

Ancelotti then took the opportunity to replace Ramos, Luka Modric and Marcelo with one eye on Real's return to Champions League action away to Atletico on Tuesday.

Hernandez should have had his second of the afternoon 15 minutes from time when he turned Pepe's knockdown goalwards, but Mikel Arrubarrena managed to divert the ball over the bar.

Instead it was Jese who rounded off the scoring on his first start of the season with a purposeful run into the area before firing low across Irureta into the far corner.