Ronaldo backdown on criticism

Team-mates censured after derby defeat, but Real star then takes pains to clarify remarks

MADRID • Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo has performed a U-turn after claiming the Spanish giants would be top of the Primera Liga if his team-mates matched his standards.

He had a day to forget in front of goal as Real waved goodbye to any lasting hope of mounting a title challenge in a 0-1 defeat by Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

"If everyone was at my level, we would be top," he was quoted as saying in Spanish newspaper Marca. "I don't want to disrespect anyone, but when the best players aren't available, it's harder to win. I like to play with Karim (Benzema), with (Gareth) Bale, with Marcelo.

DIFFERENT LEVELS OF ENGAGEMENT

If everyone was at my level, we would be top. I don't want to disrespect anyone, but when the best players aren't available, it's harder to win.

CRISTIANO RONALDO, on his team-mates' standards after Real Madrid's 0-1 La Liga defeat by city rivals Atletico. He later softened his stance on his colleagues.

"I'm not saying the others like Lucas (Vazquez), Jese (Rodriguez) and (Mateo) Kovacic are not good players. They are very good players but it's not the same."

A mounting injury list meant that Real were without Bale, Marcelo and Pepe. And striker Benzema had to be replaced by 18-year-old Borja Mayoral at half-time.

Eight minutes later, Antoine Griezmann exchanged a one-two with left-back Filipe Luis as he headed into the box and steered a sweet, low shot inside the near post past goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Atletico's brilliant defence then held out for their 25th clean sheet of the season.

The final whistle was met by a chorus of discontent from the home fans as they called for president Florentino Perez to resign.

But Zinedine Zidane's first defeat after nine games in charge since taking over last month was overshadowed by Ronaldo's comments.

The Portuguese, however, later clarified his remarks.

"When I spoke, I was referring to my physical level, not as a player," he told Radio Marca.

"I'm not better than any of my team-mates."

Ronaldo has 22 La Liga goals this season but has yet to score in five appearances against top-five teams.

The forward had a great chance to net the opener just three minutes after the restart, only to drag his shot wide with just Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak to beat.

At 0-1, Ronaldo should have levelled proceedings but he headed straight at Oblak from Dani Carvajal's inch-perfect cross.

Zidane admitted that he had been shocked by his side's poor display.

"Today is a big blow. To lose at home to Atletico is difficult to take," said the Frenchman, who saw his side hit their first shot on target after half an hour. "I didn't expect the game we saw today.

"The league is over. It was already difficult and I said yesterday if you drop more points, it is even more so."

Victory meant Atletico solidified their position in second, four points ahead of Real. Barcelona aimed to restore their eight-point lead at the top when facing Sevilla yesterday.

"Today we were Atletico Madrid. There is no better example of what we are than what we showed today," said manager Diego Simeone after Atletico became the first team to win at the Bernabeu three seasons in a row.

"Once again the fans of Atletico Madrid can feel immensely proud of their players."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'RONALDO BACKDOWN ON CRITICISM'. Print Edition | Subscribe