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Eurozone: Messi and Ronaldo trade hat-tricks before 'el clasico'

The two players who have been La Liga's leading lights this season, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, again showed why they are ranked among the world's best as they struck hat-tricks for their respective sides, Barcelona and Real Madrid, during big wins on Saturday.

Messi helped Barcelona demolish Almeria 8-0 at Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos. The Argentine's treble brought up his 22nd goal of the season while taking his La Liga total to 101 as the champions equalled their highest previous away win, at Las Palmas in 1959. Messi got his first in the 17th minute when he drilled home a low effort after exchanging passes with David Villa.

The striker's second put the visitors 5-0 up eight minutes before half-time. Messi met Pedro's cross with a shot that was blocked, but he made no mistake with the rebound. His hat-trick came after Villa's 20-yard drive was parried by Almeria goalkeeper Diego Alves and fell for Messi to finish from close range for Barça's seventh. Andres Iniesta and Pedro also scored, while Bojan Krkic hit two to add to Santi Acasiete's own goal.

Ronaldo's hat-trick helped Real Madrid thrash Athletic Bilbao 5-1. The Portuguese forward's first was struck on the half-hour mark, completing a counter-attacking move with a low-drilled effort, and he fizzed in a 62nd-minute free-kick before getting his third late on to make it 14 La Liga goals for the season. Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramoas also scored as Madrid stayed top, a point better off than Barça, whom they play next Monday in el clasico at the Nou Camp. Elsewhere in Spain, Villarreal and Valencia drew 1-1.

In Italy, Internazionale lost again, this time 2-1 at Chievo, to intensify the pressure on coach Rafael Benitez. Serie A leaders Milan beat Fiorentina 1-0 thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's strike and are now three points clear of Lazio in second after Edy Reja's side drew 1-1 at Parma.