Cristiano Ronaldo penalty helps Real Madrid beat Levante

MADRID (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo converted a first-half penalty to lead Real Madrid to a 3-1 win at last-place Levante in the Spanish league on Wednesday, keeping his team third in the standings.

Ronaldo scored from the spot in the 34th minute, an own goal by Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino added to the lead in the 38th and Francisco "Isco" Alarcon sealed the victory in second-half injury time.

Brazilian striker Deyverson scored Levante's goal in the 39th.

The victory helped Madrid rebound from a disappointing home loss to rival Atletico Madrid.

It now has 57 points, four more than fourth-place Villarreal, which was held to a 0-0 draw at sixth-place Celta Vigo. Madrid is four points behind second-place Atletico, which defeated Real Sociedad 3-0 at home on Tuesday. Barcelona has 66 points heading into its game at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.

Almost out of contention for the title with 11 games to go, Madrid is looking to at least secure third in the standings, which guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season without having to play in the qualifying round.

Missing several regular starters — including Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo — Real Madrid struggled to impose its game over Levante. It controlled possession at the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium, but the hosts had chances to earn at least a draw.

Planet Futbol
Around Europe: Ronaldo's criticism, Manchester's heroes, PSG's loss

Ronaldo missed a penalty against Malaga two rounds ago, but struck the net with a firm low shot on Wednesday after Lucas Vazquez was fouled inside the area.

It was the eighth goal in seven matches for Ronaldo, who sparked a controversy after the loss to Atletico by saying that Madrid could be in first place if everyone else in the squad was at his level.

The Portuguese striker almost added his second goal in the 66th, but his close-range shot struck the post.

Teenage striker Mayoral played a key party in helping Madrid increase the lead with a shot from the top of the area in the 38th. The ball hit the post and bounced off goalkeeper Marino, who ended up pushing it across the line as he tried to grab it.

Levante pulled one closer a minute later with Deyverson's easy goal from inside the area after Madrid's defense failed to clear a long ball sent into the box. Madrid players complained of a foul on midfielder Casemiro before the ball got to Deyverson.

The hosts had a few good chances to equalize near the end but couldn't capitalize on them.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.