Euro Zone: Ronaldo red card leaves Pellegrini on defensive

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The Independent Online

Fergie would have been furious. First came the failure to celebrate with Karim Benzema, who had scored the rebound from his saved penalty... he was still too upset about having missed it. Then when he did score came the ripping off of the shirt to pick up an unnecessary caution. That, in turn, led to his dismissal in the last minute for kicking-out at an opponent to earn a second yellow. He will now miss next week's difficult trip to Valencia.

Cristiano Ronaldo is predictably in his pomp against La Liga defences incapable of handling his pace, power and skill; but he is also showing the petulance and pretension that was for the most part kept at bay by Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Real coach Manuel Pellegrini defended his star: "There is no problem with him not being a team man," he said. "It is difficult to not let a penalty miss affect you. I attach no importance to the fact that he did not celebrate with Benzema after the rebound was scored."

The Madrid manager also suggested the sending-off was unfair, but Real are unlikely to appeal. Ronaldo, much like Almeria's Juanma Ortiz, wouldn't have a leg to stand on. The Almeria forward had provoked Ronaldo and the Portuguese international kicked-out to take his standing leg from beneath him right in front of referee Xavier Estrada Fernandez, who could easily have shown a straight red.

"It was an instinctive reaction," said Ronaldo afterwards. "I know I should not have done it and I am disappointed with myself."

But he was unrepentant about his behaviour after the penalty miss, adding: "It was a normal reaction; I don't like failing. I work hard for things to go right and when they don't I get upset."

Real Madrid's sporting director Jorge Valdano, who was criticised for going down to the referee's dressing room before the game to congratulate him on being awarded the match, said: "The two cards were mistakes that we have to eradicate, but his influence on the team was overwhelmingly positive."

Almeria were 2-1 up until the 72nd minute when Gonzalo Higuain equalized for Madrid. Ronaldo's saved spot-kick was converted by Benzema amid justifiable protests that he had encroached on the area when the kick was taken, and Ronaldo got the fourth with six minutes left.

Defender Ramos, who headed the first from a Ronaldo cross agreed the red card had soured the victory. He said: "We will be without him in a very important game next week. But it will serve him as a lesson for the future."

The win left Madrid five points behind Barcelona, who have played a game more. They beat Deportivo 3-1 with two goals from Leo Messi, who was yesterday presented with the Ballon D'Or.

"It's a special day," said the Argentine. "But I am conscious of how much I owe the great season I had to my team-mates." Zlaten Ibrahimovic claimed Barcelona's other goal, his 10th of the season.

In Italy, Ibrahimovic's former teams played out a stormy Derby D'Italia with Juventus beating Internazionale 2-1. Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands for disputing the free-kick that led to Juve's opener and, according to his captain Javier Zanetti, did not speak to his players after the match. Samuel Eto'o equalised for Inter but Claudio Marchisio scored the home side's winner.

Juventus fans made sure their abuse of the Inter substitute Mario Balotelli was of a non-racist nature, and when he came on in the second half he failed to make an impact – slipping as he skied one free-kick opportunity over the bar. His late push on Felipe Melo did provoke a retaliation, which earned the Brazilian his second yellow card of the game.



Everyone's talking about ...

David Beckham will be joining a title charge when he links up with Milan again in January. When the England man rubber-stamped his return to the San Siro, coach Leonardo was one defeat from the sack, but a 3-0 victory over Sampdoria this weekend saw Milan move to within four points of Mourinho's Inter. Milan are now on a run of five straight wins and have not lost in 10. Beckham's biggest problem, however, could be breaking into their first team.



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Marco Borriello, Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato were all on the mark for Milan, but it was Ronaldinho's first-half masterclass that again caught the eye. The club took a big gamble in the summer cashing in on Kaka and hoping that the former Barcelona player would fill the gap, but with two assists yesterday owner Silvio Berlusconi was busy telling people how shrewd the decision had been. The player's fragile fitness remains a problem, however; after 34 minutes of magic he limped off with a thigh strain, although is expected to be fit to face FC Zurich in the Champions League in midweek.

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