Finally, Ronaldo finds the net

Real Madrid’s three-time World Player of the Year Ronaldo couldn’t hide his relief after finally finding the net following 36 barren days in which the Spanish giants have gone into a downward spiral.

Ronaldo’s injury-time goal salvaged a point in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Real Zaragoza, the team which humiliated Real 6-1 in the Spanish Cup last month.

Since the Brazilian striker last scored Real have been eliminated from the Champions League and Spanish Cup as well as falling out of contention for the Spanish league title.

Real are now as-good-as assured of going a third season without a major trophy, their worst spell for half a century.

“This goal will serve to lift the weight of responsibility [from my shoulders],” admitted the under-fire Ronaldo, who has been the target of brickbats from Real’s ever-critical fans and jeered in recent games at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

“But that goal was for me, for my family and for my team, not to shut anyone up.”

Despite scoring for the first time in four games, Real’s third successive draw in La Liga meant they slipped to third place, a huge 13 points behind runaway league leaders and bitter rivals Barcelona who they play on April 1.

“But the important thing, from my point of view, is that we played well. The team stood up to a very difficult opponent and we fought until the 91st minute.
Now we have to carry on playing like this,” added Ronaldo.

Real’s performance, in which Roberto Carlos hit the cross bar and they were unlucky not to be awarded two penalties, also brought a slight smile to the often glum face of Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro.

“It was a very competitive game between two very well organised sides. Zaragoza were very dangerous on the counter-attack and we had our chances as well,” analysed Lopez Caro, who most pundits expect to be replaced at the end of the season.

“The result was fair considering the exceptional work rate of the two teams.”

Lopez Caro is still uttering the party line that Barcelona can be caught despite the Catalan club’s huge lead and the fact that they could potentially be only three games away from their second successive league title.

“I have always said that we have to be as ambitious as possible every week. There are still plenty of weeks to go and plenty of points to play for,” added Lopez Caro.

Lopez Caro is still struggling to explain the plummeting form of Real in the last month.

After going unbeaten for the first seven league games of 2006, Real have now won just one of their last five outings.

However, Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira came out with a plausible explanation on Thursday, which will not please Lopez Caro.

“I think Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos could be saving their energy for the World Cup,” said Parreira, speaking in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. - Sapa-AFP

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