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Ronaldo resting, Isco's 2 goals keeps Madrid on title track

  • Joseph Wilson

    Associated Press

Barcelona | Sun, April 16, 2017 | 08:59 am
Ronaldo resting, Isco's 2 goals keeps Madrid on title track Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (center) heads the ball between Sporting de Gijon's Sergio Alvarez, and Lillo (right) during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Sporting de Gijon, at El Molinon stadium in Gijon, northern Spain, Saturday. (AP/Alvaro Barrientos)

Francisco "Isco" Alarcon scored his second goal of the match in the 90th minute to salvage a 3-2 win for Real Madrid at Sporting Gijon on Saturday, keeping it on course for its first Spanish league title in five years.

Madrid was on the verge of a second consecutive draw when the Spain midfielder drilled a right-footed shot from just outside the area between goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar and his post.

Isco's outstanding performance saved Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane from paying a heavy price for resting almost all his first-choice players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, for important matches against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

"Isco deserved this," said Marcelo, who went on as a second-half substitute for Madrid. "It was a relief to score at the end and take the three points. There is little time to rest and those who played today were phenomenal. They don't have many minutes, but that's what makes a team great. We need everyone and everyone responds."

The hard-fought win at relegation-threatened Sporting increased Madrid's lead to six points over Barcelona, before the defending champions host Real Sociedad later.

Madrid, which has a game in hand, will host Barcelona next round in a "clasico" match that will go a long way to determining the league champion.

Before that game, both rivals will play the return legs of their Champions League quarterfinals. Madrid welcomes Bayern on Tuesday after winning the first leg 2-1, while Barcelona must overturn a 3-0 first-leg defeat to Juventus on Wednesday.

Centerback Sergio Ramos was the only first-choice player in Madrid's starting 11, which included rare showings by backs Fabio Coentrao and Danilo and midfielders Marco Asensio and James Rodriguez.

The calculated risk taken by Zidane came close to backfiring.

But not for Isco, who gave his coach good reason to play him more in the high-profile matches.

Isco's first goal was a superb solo effort in the 17th to cancel out Duje Cop's opener for Sporting. Isco avoided three defenders inside a crowded area before lashing a left-footed strike just inside the top corner of the goal frame.

Sporting went back ahead through a header by Mikel Vesga, who had already set up Cop's opener, which looped over the goalkeeper five minutes after halftime.

But Alvaro Morata headed Madrid level again in the 59th from a pass by Danilo, and the pacesetters kept pushing until Isco netted the winner.

Now 24, Isco was supposed to be the future of Madrid's midfield when he transferred from Malaga in 2013. But the lack of a major role under Zidane has led to rumors he is seeking to leave the club.

After the match, Isco said he just wanted to spend less time on the bench.

"I have always been clear - I want to stay at Real Madrid for many years," Isco said. "I don't know why people are surprised when I say I want to play more."

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