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Raul hat-trick leads Madrid past Sevilla

RAUL Gonzalez scored a hat-trick yesterday as Real Madrid beat Sevilla 4-2 to close within four points of Spanish leader Barcelona after a record eighth straight road victory.

Juande Ramos - who was showered with dollar bills featuring his image after the former Sevilla coach left for a lucrative offer from Tottenham last season - was without regulars Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Gabriel Heinze due to injury.

Center back Pepe is also banned for 10 games for lashing out at two Getafe opponents in Madrid's last game, and he was certainly missed on Renato's opening goal in the 16th minute.

But Raul equalized by redirecting Christoph Metzelder's center over Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop on the stroke of halftime.

The Madrid captain then volleyed in Miguel Torres' deflected cross in the 63rd before taking his goal tally for the season to 18 three minutes later by poking in a loose ball that Palop failed to smother.

Diego Capel pulled one back for Sevilla ten minutes from time after Sergio Ramos had failed to clear a cross into the area, but Marcelo sealed the victory with Madrid's fourth deep into injury time.

"Drawing even gave us confidence for the second half, which was Madrid's and for that we're satisfied," said Raul after scoring his third career hat-trick. "The team played at a very high level."

The two-time defending champion will go into Saturday's "clasico" match against arch rival Barcelona with 17 victories from its last 18 games. Madrid's last defeat came at Barcelona in December.

"I'm confident that we can pick up the win at the (Santiago) Bernabeu," Raul said. "The league is in their hands but we'll keep with this rhythm of game to game and see where it takes us."

Barcelona has 82 points after Saturday's 2-2 draw at Valencia while Madrid has 78 with five games to play.

Sevilla's fourth straight defeat left it on 57 points, while Valencia has 56.

In yesterday's other games, it was: Getafe 1, Villarreal 2; Atletico Madrid 3, Sporting Gijon 1; Athletic Bilbao 2, Racing Santander 1; Espanyol 2, Real Betis 0; Recreativo Huelva 2, Mallorca 4; and Valladolid 0, Osasuna 0.

Villarreal moved to within one point of Valencia and the final Champions League qualifying place with victory.

Joan Capdevila capitalized on a goalkeeping error by Vladimir Stojkovic in the 16th minute to score the first before Joseba Llorente beat the Getafe 'keeper with a low shot to the left just before the break.

Manu del Moral pulled one back for Getafe with a penalty in the 82nd but a fifth straight defeat left the Madrid club mired in the relegation fight, only one point better than No. 18 Sporting Gijon.

Both teams played the final half hour with 10 men.

Villarreal improved to 55 points, Atletico has 52, Malaga has 51 and Deportivo La Coruna has 50.

At the Vicente Calderon stadium, a deflected volley gave Diego Forlan his 23rd goal of the season. Sabrosa Simao then doubled the lead for Atletico in the 41st minute before Sergio Aguero netted his 15th of the season just after the restart.

Mate Bilic pulled one back for the visitors a minute later, but Atletico hung on to stay in touch with the Champions League places despite Simao being sent off late.

Athletic and Racing played a stormy affair that featured five dismissals and 17 cards.

Fernando Llorente opened the scoring with his 14th goal of the season before David Lopez doubled Athletic's lead with a 42nd-minute penalty.

Pablo Pinillos pulled Santander to within one with a penalty in the 57th after Fran Yeste was sent off for barging into Jonathan Pereira.

A third straight win moved Espanyol out of the drop zone for the first time since December.

Luis Garcia beat the offside trap to roll home in the fourth minute before Roman Martinez added the second in the 83rd for Espanyol to move into 16th with 35 points, one better than Getafe and two up on Sporting.

Jose Jurado, Juan Arango, Chori Castro and Alhassane Keita scored as Mallorca improved to 42 points.

Sisinio Gonzalez and Albert Camunas scored for Recreativo, which dropped into 19th.

On Saturday, Malaga and Deportivo drew 1-1 and Almeria beat last-place Numancia 2-1.


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