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Real Madrid clinch 32nd La Liga title in Bilbao
MADRID (Reuters) - Winning the title in four major European nations might never be repeated and the fact Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho has overcome the great Barcelona to achieve the feat makes his success even more remarkable.
Real, who have smashed the La Liga scoring record, clinched their 32nd league crown and their first in four years when Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo struck in a frenetic 3-0 win at 10-man Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.
It went some way to easing their pain after a defeat on penalties to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals last week.
Lionel Messi's record-breaking hat-trick in Barcelona's 4-1 victory at home to Malaga in the earlier kickoff had kept alive Catalan hopes of catching their bitter rivals but Real swept Europa League finalists Bilbao aside.
They have a seven-point lead with only two games left.
Mourinho becomes the first man to win league titles in his native Portugal (Porto), England (Chelsea), Italy (Inter Milan)and Spain and has ended Barca's three-year stranglehold on the title, the club where he was an assistant coach in the 1990s.
"It has been a very long and hard season but we have taken a step forward in terms of quality compared to last year," Real captain Iker Casillas said in a television interview.
"It was tough to end Barca's run as this is a new project and we are a young squad but I think we already improved last year and even more so this year," added the Spain goalkeeper, as his team mates celebrated wildly on the pitch nearby.
Real have only lost twice all season, 1-0 at Levante and 3-1 at home to Barca, and have amassed a record 115 goals with 30 conceded.
Their success has been largely down to the awesome firepower of their front line, with Ronaldo racking up 44 goals, Higuain netting 22 and Karim Benzema 20, the first time three players from the same club have passed the 20 mark.
Mourinho also gave an expensively-assembled group of players the self-belief that allowed them to get the better of Barca, widely regarded as one of the best teams of all time.
Barca's home form let them down and they dropped 16 points on their travels to Real's seven before a 2-1 defeat by Real in the 'Clasico' at the Nou Camp last month effectively ended their title bid.
"We are very happy after winning a very closely-fought championship against a very strong Barcelona," defender Sergio Ramos said.
"Madrid deserve the title and we dedicate it to all the fans."
The match at the San Mames got off to a blistering start, with both sides pouring forward in search of a goal.
Real should have been ahead in the 12th minute when the referee ruled Javi Martinez had handled the ball in the area and awarded a penalty.
Ronaldo, who missed a spotkick in the Champions League semi-final shootout against victorious Bayern Munich last week, attempted a dinked shot down the middle of the goal and goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz diverted the ball over the bar.
It was the first time the Portuguese had fluffed a penalty in La Liga in 12 attempts since joining for a record fee from Manchester United in 2009 and drew howls of derision from the Bilbao faithful.
Real were ahead four minutes later, however, when Ozil picked out Higuain on the edge of the area and the Argentina forward smashed a shot into the top corner.
They doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Ronaldo made amends for his penalty miss with a superb pass into the path of Ozil and the German international sidefooted past Iraizoz.
Their third came five minutes into the second half when Ronaldo was left unmarked at a corner and he nodded home. It was the Portuguese's 44th league goal of the season leaving him two behind record La Liga top scorer Messi.
Bilbao, who play La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final on May 9, were twice denied by the crossbar in the second half before Martinez was booked for a second handball and sent off.
As the Real players flung Mourinho in the air on the San Mames pitch, thousands of Real fans already gathered at the Cibeles fountain in the capital began celebrating the end of four years of disappointment.
At the Nou Camp, home of the dethroned champions, Messi's treble made him the first man to score 68 goals in a season for a European top-flight club, breaking the record of 67 set by former Bayern striker Gerd Mueller in 1972-73.
After the home fans paid warm tribute to coach Pep Guardiola, who announced on Friday he was stepping down at the end of the season, captain Carles Puyol volleyed Barca ahead in the 13th minute.
Salomon Rondon levelled with a glancing header in the 26th before Andres Iniesta was felled on the edge of the penalty area and Messi stroked in the spotkick.
The 24-year-old scored a second penalty, which he won himself, in the 59th minute and was played clear by Iniesta five minutes later before dinking the ball over Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni and sliding it into the empty net.
Defeat for Malaga dents their chances of overhauling third-placed Valencia and clinching Spain's third automatic place in next season's Champions League.
Valencia pulled three clear with a thumping 4-0 win at home to Osasuna with the visitors having Dejan Lekic sent off after he clashed with Adil Rami as the players were leaving the pitch at halftime.
Atletico Madrid's hopes of a lucrative place in next season's Champions League were dealt a huge blow when they had Gabi sent off and conceded a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home to Real Sociedad.
(Editing by Mark Meadows and Alison Wildey)
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