- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Cristiano Ronaldo scored from long range to seal Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory over the promoted Cordoba on Monday, while Atletico Madrid was held 0-0 at Rayo Vallecano as it stumbled at the start of its Spanish league title defense.

Ronaldo and Karim Benzema made sure that the European champions made a winning start in their league opener with goals in each half of a victory that a frisky Cordoba threatened to spoil.

Suspended coach Diego Simeone then watched from the stands at Vallecas Stadium as his Atletico failed to equal Madrid’s and Barcelona’s first-round victories.

Benzema headed in the opening goal on the half-hour mark of a first half that Madrid dominated under the direction of new signing Toni Kroos.

But Cordoba surged forward in the second half, turning its first game in the topflight in 42 years into an evenly matched contest against the Champions League winners.

Ronaldo shook off an otherwise drab performance with a strike that only few can match when he blasted in a right-foot shot from well outside the area in the 90th.

“We begin suffering, but with a win. So that’s fine,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “Cristiano isn’t fully fit, like the rest of the group. But this week of work will help us in that sense.”

Ronaldo and the rest of Madrid were eager to rebound from its 1-0 loss at Atletico on Friday that cost it the Spanish Super Cup, and to match Barcelona’s strong start from Sunday when Lionel Messi scored twice to beat Elche 3-0.

Ronaldo, who only played the second half of Friday’s loss as he nurses a left leg injury, started Monday’s match but spent more time protesting than creating scoring opportunities.

Yet when his chance finally came after Cordoba lost the ball in its half, the reigning world player of the year unleashed a powerful strike that beat diving goalkeeper Juan Carlos.

It was the Portugal forward’s third goal in four games in all competitions to start the season after only scoring once in a disappointing World Cup. Ronaldo scored twice to give Madrid the European Super Cup in a 2-0 victory over Sevilla earlier this month. He then came up empty in the two legs against Atletico played last week.

Ancelotti deployed a midfield of three playmakers in new signings Kroos and James Rodriguez along with Luka Modric.

Kroos, who arrived from Bayern Munich this summer, guided Madrid’s attack with the poise of a longtime veteran. He distributed the ball with ease and his well-placed corner kick set up Benzema to thump his header in off the upright.

While Kroos shone, Madrid’s more high-profile stars did not. Ronaldo and Gareth Bale went long stretches without getting involved as the game wore on.

The clearest sign of Madrid’s plight was Ancelotti’s decision to pull Benzema in favor of holding midfielder Sami Khedira in the 77th to bolster his defense against the modest rival that only folded after Ronaldo’s goal.

Assistant coach German Burgos was in charge of Atletico with Simeone serving a one-game suspension that had carried over from last season.

Burgos will have to remain Atletico’s in-game coach in the league for the next month after Simeone was handed an eight-game suspension earlier Monday for his outburst in the Spanish Super Cup. He will serve four games of the ban in the league, with the other four applying to the Super Cup.

Atletico was without midfielders Raul Garcia because of suspension and Arda Turan due to injury, and its attack missed their playmaking.

Atletico could only muster a trio of attempts by striker Mario Mandzukic, all in a bunch between the 25th to 27th minutes.

Otherwise, the monotony was only broken by Rayo substitute Manucho’s header in the 71st that goalie Miguel Moya stretched to save.

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