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Rivals Real, Atletico draw in thrilling derby at the Calderon

Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute to help Real Madrid maintain its La Liga lead over Atletico.

MADRID (AP) - Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late equalizer to earn Real Madrid a 2-2 draw at Spanish title rival Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Ronaldo pounced on a loose ball inside the area to net the 82nd-minute equalizer - his 23rd goal of the season for the league leaders.

Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead at the Vicente Calderon Stadium after three minutes but, instead of wilting, Atletico hit back with two goals to take the lead by halftime.

Koke smashed a low shot beyond Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez, who then watched Gabi Fernandez's swerving effort from 30 meters (yards) fly past him just before the break.

Madrid stayed three points ahead of Atletico while Barcelona can cut its deficit to Madrid to one point with a victory against Almeria later Sunday.

The fifth meeting between the crosstown rivals since Atletico beat Madrid in the Copa del Rey final last May kept its trademark liveliness and aggression, with Madrid having won the last two encounters.

Atletico's defense played Benzema onside for the France striker to score his 15th of the season, leaving him alone to guide Angel Di Maria's cross into the box past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Ugly confrontations followed as both teams used gamesmanship to try and gain an edge, with Arda Turan booked for protesting in the 11th after Sergio Ramos tripped Diego Costa inside the area with no penalty awarded.

But Atletico's pressure paid off in the 28th when Turan spotted Koke inside the area to smash a low shot past Lopez into the far corner.

Diego Costa, who will play at the Calderon for Spain in three days, was a physical presence and troubled Madrid throughout. The Atletico striker tested Lopez constantly, including in the 43rd when the `keeper rushed out to block a clear chance after a smart drag by Diego Costa.

Atletico took the lead in first-half stoppage time when Gabi's powerful drive beat the slow-footed Lopez.

In the second half, Lopez rebounded in the second half to make stops on Diego Costa and Raul Garcia as Atletico found space on the counter with Madrid pressing for an equalizer.

Atletico assistant coach German Burgos was sent off for protesting with both teams knowing the importance of the match toward the championship.

But Madrid's attack could not be contained despite Gareth Bale failing to control a cross inside the area, with the ball falling to Ronaldo to extend Madrid's unbeaten run in all competitions to 28 games.

Madrid also stretched its unbeaten run at the Calderon to 15 games, dating to June 1999.

Earlier, Ruben Castro's late goal gave bottom side Real Betis a 1-1 draw at 10-man Villarreal, which slipped six points from fourth and the final Champions League spot. Betis was left 11 points from safety.

Villarreal appeared to be in control after Bruno Soriano converted a penalty in the 71st minute following Francisco Chica's foul on Ikechukwu Uche in the area.

But Uche was dismissed with his second booking in the 85th, and five minutes later Castro headed home Didac Vila's cross to level.

Real Sociedad is at Sevilla later Sunday, when Rayo Vallecano welcomes Valencia.

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