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Higuain puts Real in pole position
Real Madrid took a step closer to the last 16 of the Champions League after easing past FC Zurich in a match that saw the return to action of Cristiano Ronaldo following injury.

Gonzalo Higuain struck the only goal of a game that a workmanlike Madrid bossed in terms of possession and territory, but were unable to turn that dominance into a more comfortable victory.

However, the win still lifted Madrid to the top of Group C and they are now two points clear of AC Milan and three clear of Marseille, who Manuel Pellegrini's side play in their final match.

The other good news for the Spanish giants was the return of Ronaldo. The £80million man has missed Madrid's last ten matches after suffering an ankle injury in the previous clash with Marseille on September 30, but he appeared as a second-half substitute in Wednesday's match.

The Portuguese international failed to get on the scoresheet, but he looked keen to impress and Madrid will be delighted to have him back in the fold ahead of this weekend's Primera Division showdown with Barcelona.

Madrid started on the front foot and Zurich goalkeeper Johnny Leoni did well to tip over Kaka's early drive before Xabi Alonso sent a fizzing shot just wide of the post in the 10th minute.

It took the home side only 11 minutes to break the deadlock, with Higuain, somewhat unsurprisingly, the man on the mark. Last season's top scorer has netted five goals in Madrid's last four league matches - including the winner in Saturday's 1-0 home victory over Racing Santander - and the Argentina international was back on the scoresheet after picking up Kaka's through-ball and slotting low past Leoni.

It was pretty much all Madrid in the first half, and the home side almost doubled their lead five minutes later when Alonso drew another fine save from Leoni, who clawed away the Spain international's powerful drive which looked destined for the top corner.

Leoni needed the help of his post in the 35th minute though as Madrid came within inches of going 2-0 up, Marcelo hitting the woodwork with a fine effort.

Higuain's corner to the edge of the box was latched onto by Marcelo, and his side-footed volley crashed against Leoni's right-hand post with the visiting keeper stranded.

As has been the case on previous occasions this season though, Madrid failed to build on that early momentum and they had to wait until the 65th minute to next test Leoni, with substitute Rafael van der Vaart the man to try his luck.

Three minutes after that effort Pellegrini decided it was time to throw Ronaldo into the fray, the Portuguese superstar receiving a huge ovation from the Bernabeu faithful as he replaced captain Raul.

Ronaldo looked eager to produce his party tricks, but they were done well away from the Zurich goal and the Swiss side held Madrid at bay relatively comfortably until the final few minutes.

That was when Madrid might have needed two more goals, but Van der Vaart skied a great chance before Ronaldo was denied a fairytale return when Leoni produced a fine diving stop to keep out the winger's low drive.

Zurich had a couple of attacks late on that will have tested the nerves of the home side, but nothing came of those and they are now out of Europe.

Ronaldo's warning for Barca

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo sent out a warning to Barcelona ahead of 'El Clasico' after making his return to competitive action.

The world's most expensive player - having moved to the Bernabeu from Manchester United in an £80 million deal last summer - had been missing for Madrid since September 30 with an ankle injury.

"It's good to be back, 55 days after my injury,'' Ronaldo told Sky Sports. "It was very disappointing, but this is football. My motivation is high and I want to be back again and as strong as I was before.''

Ronaldo was absent for Madrid's last ten competitive fixtures having made a sensational start to his career in Spain. The 24-year-old Portugal international scored nine times as Real won each of their opening seven matches, but since his absence, they have won only five of ten - although four of those wins have come in the last five fixtures.

Ronaldo, however, is confident ahead of his first meeting with Barcelona as a Real player at the Nou Camp. "We are top of the league and if we win we have a four-point gap,'' he added. "It's going to be interesting. We are confident at the moment.''
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