- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - With three goals in six minutes, Kevin Gameiro made a strong case to be Atletico Madrid’s first-choice striker after leading its 4-1 win at Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

The Spanish league said only Bebeto in the 1995-96 season and David Villa in 2005-06 have scored faster hat tricks.

While Gameiro made some history for his club, Gareth Bale made a scoring return for Real Madrid after nearly three months recovering from ankle surgery.

Gameiro had only six goals in 21 previous league appearances this season, backing up Fernando Torres for five straight matches.

But with Torres misfiring against Sporting and Atletico struggling to break the deadlock at 1-1, coach Diego Simeone sent Gameiro on in the 62nd minute at El Molinon Stadium.

The French striker put the visitors back in front in the 80th when he received Antoine Griezmann’s brilliant side-footed pass and rounded the goalkeeper to score.

Gameiro fired in his second a minute later and got his hat trick when he received a long ball behind the defense in the 85th.

“I’m very happy for Gameiro because it is not easy to score three goals, and because they were very important for the team,” Simeone said. “The changes we made in the second half were decisive because they restored our balance in midfield, and later Gameiro’s speed decided the match.”

Gameiro dedicated the hat trick to his grandmother.

“We lost her this week and I have been thinking a lot about her,” he said.

Atletico’s Yannick Carrasco opened the scoring seconds after halftime, but Sergio Alvarez leveled for Sporting moments later.

Sporting remained the more aggressive team and had Atletico pinned in its area until Griezmann found Gameiro to turn the match around.


Bale showed no lingering signs of his surgery when he raced down the left flank and struck on the break to seal victory over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bale went on in the 71st minute, and 12 minutes later ran to meet Francisco “Isco” Alarcon’s pass before using his left foot to slot the ball in off the far post.

“I’m happy to be back and to have got the goal because I’ve worked hard during the last few weeks to get fit,” Bale said. “I’ll take it game by game and keep working hard in the upcoming weeks to get back to 100 percent as soon as possible.”

The win kept Zinedine Zidane’s side at the top of the league, three points clear of Sevilla and with two matches in hand.

Bale required surgery on his ankle after hurting it on Nov. 22 in the Champions League.


Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla continued its best ever start to the league with another win that lifted it into second place ahead of Barcelona.

Stevan Jovetic assisted on both goals, first setting up Pablo Sarabia after a fancy bit of footwork opened an angle for his cross in the first half. He then passed for Victor “Vitolo” Machin to add another goal in stoppage time.

Barcelona can recover second place with a win over Leganes on Sunday.


Manu Garcia earned and converted a second-half penalty to give surprising Alaves a fifth road victory in the league.

Alaves, a modest club from the Basque Country promoted last campaign, has also reached the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona.

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