MADRID (AP) For Cristiano Ronaldo, there’s clearly something special about playing Atletico Madrid.
Ronaldo is used to performing well regardless of the opponent but the star forward often finds another level against Real Madrid’s crosstown rival.
No one has done better than him in the Madrid derby, not even the great Alfredo Di Stefano.
With his hat trick on Saturday in the 3-0 win at the Vicente Calderon Stadium, Ronaldo reached 18 goals to surpass the former Madrid great as the derby’s top all-time goal scorer.
“To score three goals in a game like this is something that only the great players can do,” said former Real Madrid forward Emilio Butragueno, currently a club director. “The great players show what they can do in games of this magnitude. It’s a privilege to have a player like Ronaldo playing for this club.”
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Ronaldo’s performance on Saturday should “put an end to the debate” over best player of the year award.
“I never had any doubt in my mind,” Zidane said. “He has shown that he deserves it all season long.”
Ronaldo’s performance was tough on Atletico, coming in the last Spanish league derby at the Calderon before the club moves into a new venue next season.
A good result at the emotionally charged game was a matter of honor for Atletico players and fans. Watching Madrid run rampant at its ground was tough for the die-hard crowd that has packed the Calderon for the last 50 years.
Atletico had been doing well against Madrid recently, unbeaten in six league games, but supporters still remember painful defeats in Champions League finals, when Ronaldo played key roles. The 31-year-old forward scored Madrid’s final goal in extra time in the 4-1 win in 2014, and converted the decisive penalty kick in the shootout in last season’s final in Milan.
Ronaldo has scored against Atletico in three different competitions, with 11 goals coming in the Spanish league, six in the Copa del Rey and one in the Champions League.
Di Stefano, who played for the club from 1953-64, scored 17 goals against Atletico.
It was Ronaldo’s second hat trick at the Calderon, giving him a total of seven goals at the stadium that will be demolished after Atletico moves out. The other hat trick came in his first season with Madrid in 2012, and he also netted at the venue in 2014.
Ronaldo scored Saturday with a free kick that deflected off the wall in the first half. He converted a penalty kick in the second after being fouled in the area and sealed the victory with an easy close-range shot after a pass by Gareth Bale.
The win at the Calderon left Madrid four points clear of Barcelona, and nine points in front of Atletico, significantly diminishing the rival’s title chances after only 12 matches.
Madrid hasn’t won the Spanish league title since 2012.
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