Madrid keep up pressure
Last Updated: 12/01/14 8:27pm
Cristiano Ronaldo vies with Espanyol's goalkeeper
Real Madrid closed to within three points of the Primera Division leaders with a 1-0 victory over Espanyol at Estadi Cornella-El Prat.
Centre-back Pepe headed home the only goal of the game at the start of the second half as Madrid took full advantage of the goalless draw between joint pacesetters Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on Saturday night.
The victory was Madrid's eighth in nine games since their last league loss, which was the 2-1 defeat at Barca in October, but it was closer than they would have liked with their much-vaunted attack failing to make the most of a host of chances to finish the game off.
For once, it was Cristiano Ronaldo - who brought up 400 career goals in Madrid's win over Celta Vigo last week and who could win the FIFA Ballon d'Or award tomorrow - who had forgotten his shooting boots as he missed out on a hat-trick of great openings in the final half-hour.
He fired two of those chances wide while the other one was superbly save by Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
Casilla was also the busier of the two keepers during a goalless first half as he saved an early effort from Angel Di Maria and then three more from Ronaldo.
In the Madrid goal, Diego Lopez was called into action by Christian Stuani just after half-time but otherwise had few concerns.
Almost immediately after that Stuani effort, Madrid took a 54th-minute lead, and that proved to be the decisive goal.
Luka Modric curled over a free-kick from the right and Pepe climbed highest at the far post to power in a downward header which Casilla got a hand to but could not keep out.
Having got the breakthrough goal, Madrid quickly went in search of a second and had plenty of chances to get it.
Ronaldo was denied by a good save by Casilla in the 62nd minute but he really should have done better three minutes later after being put clean through on goal, the Portugal captain dragging his shot wide of the far post.
Ronaldo did manage to get his next chance on target, but this time his thunderbolt from the edge of the box was somehow turned over the bar by Casilla one-handed.
Madrid continued to push for a second, with youngster Jese on for record signing Gareth Bale by this time, and they created another great opening in the 89th minute - only for Karim Benzema and then Ronaldo to miss out.
Di Maria found Benzema unmarked on the edge of the box and he was only denied by the outstretched foot of Casilla.
The rebound then went straight to Ronaldo who seemed certain to score with the goal at his mercy, but he attempted to dink the ball over Casilla as the Espanyol keeper scrambled back towards his net and the shot was skewed wide of the far post.
It was a rare off-night for the prolific forward but fortunately for Madrid it did not prove costly as Ronaldo's countryman Pepe's goal ensured they moved closer to the leaders.
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Spanish Primera BBVA