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October 22, 2014

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo's 70th Champions League goal and a double from Karim Benzema guided Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Liverpool as the reigning champions notched a third straight victory in Group B on Wednesday.

All the goals came in a devastating 18-minute spell in the first half at Anfield, with Ronaldo moving to within one goal of Raul Gonzalez's record tally in the competition by flicking in a superb opener in the 23rd minute.

The goal punctured Liverpool's bright start and Real took control, with Benzema heading in the second in the 30th minute and making it 3-0 from close range.

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Mario Balotelli's miserable start to his Liverpool career continued as he was substituted at halftime — and swapped shirts with his marker, Pepe, while walking to the dressing rooms.

It will hardly endear the Italy striker to Liverpool fans, who have seen him score one goal in 10 games since joining from AC Milan in August.

While Liverpool, on three points from three games, is locked in a fight with FC Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad for second place in the group, there is no stopping Real.

With Ronaldo leading the charge with 20 goals now from 13 games this season, the Spanish giants again look the team to beat in the Champions League. They have scored 35 goals in their last eight games in all competitions, which have all been wins.

The Portugal star could easily have drawn level or surpassed Raul's record, but he was twice denied by Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in the second half before being substituted to applause. Almost every touch in the first half had been greeted by jeers from Liverpool fans courtesy of his previous connections with Manchester United.

It was Real's first win in four meetings with Liverpool — and Ronaldo ended a scoring drought at Anfield.

After riding an intense opening 20 minutes when Liverpool — backed by vociferous support — threw everything at the visitors, Real settled into a bewitching rhythm. Toni Kroos was the team's orchestrator in central midfield and Ronaldo and Benzema provided the cutting edge.

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Ronaldo's goal came out of nothing, the Portugal star passing short to James Rodriguez and then sprinting through the defense and onto a chipped through-ball to caress a finish into the corner ahead of covering defender Martin Skrtel.

Anfield, so atmospheric up until then, was silenced. And Liverpool's intensity dropped, giving Real free rein.

Kroos curled in a cross from the left that went over Glen Johnson's head and found Benzema at the back post. The France striker's header looped into the far corner

And Benzema made it three goals in 18 minutes when a corner landed at the chest of Pepe, who controlled the ball and prodded it across the face of goal for Benzema to turn in from inside the six-yard box.

It was the first time that Liverpool had conceded three goals in a Champions League game since the 2005 final.

On that occasion, the Reds fought back to win on a memorable night in Istanbul. There was to be no miracle comeback this time.

With Balotelli substituted for Lallana, Liverpool had the diminutive Raheem Sterling as a lone striker and had better shape in the second half.

Joe Allen went close but Real was even more dangerous on the counterattack at the other end, with Ronaldo firing a fierce shot at Mignolet then squandering a one-on-one chance as the Belgium goalkeeper save with his feet.

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