LONDON (AP) — Two victories in four days over rival Barcelona propelled Real Madrid to first place in the AP global soccer rankings.
Cristiano Ronaldo's role in Madrid's victories was not enough to make him player of the week in The Associated Press survey of 22 global soccer journalists. Ronaldo was beaten by Gareth Bale of Tottenham, who has been scoring spectacular match-winning goals.
Shinji Kagawa became the first Japanese player to enter the top three in the player rankings following his hat trick for Manchester United.
Bale scored 170 points out of a possible 220 from the AP panel, which awards 10 points to the best player or team, going down to one point for the 10th best.
Ronaldo was only three points behind after impressive performances in the Copa del Rey and Spanish league, and Kagawa won 159 points for three neatly taken goals that won him widespread praise in England and Japan.
Leonardo Bertozzi of ESPN Brazil paid tribute to Bale, but said Ronaldo has now scored in six consecutive games against Barcelona. He came off the bench in the second half of the Copa del Rey game, "and was still able to have more shots than the entire Barcelona team throughout the match."
Kagawa's exploits in United's 4-0 thrashing of Norwich clearly delighted Japanese supporters.
"Provided he stays fit, building the necessary strength and stamina, Kagawa will have plenty of goal-scoring opportunities like Saturday with Rooney and Van Persie commanding so much of the attention of the opposing defense," said panelist Shintaro Kano of Japan's Kyodo news agency.
"His touch amid congestion inside the box is first class, and United fans have only seen a glimpse of what Dortmund supporters saw in Kagawa. At this rate, the 12 million pounds Alex Ferguson paid for him will seem like a bargain as he will be under contract at United for the peak years of his career," said Kano.
South Korea-based John Duerden pointed out that the hat trick was the first in the English Premier League by an Asian player.
"A classy hat trick for a classy player," Duerden said.
James Porteous of The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong said Bale's three goals in two games made him a natural for top spot.
Porteous said, "he is quite simply single-handedly dragging Spurs towards Europe, and is sure to be in demand by Europe's biggest clubs when the transfer window reopens."
Manchester United, 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League, was a distant second with 157 points to Real Madrid's 202. Bayern Munich, a massive 17 points clear in the Bundesliga, is third with 148 after a narrow weekend victory over Hoffenheim.
Aurelio Capaldi, of Italy's RAI Sport, said Madrid's position at the top of the AP rankings had been tough to achieve.
"Real Madrid were capable of beating Barcelona twice in five days and they were particularly impressive at the Camp Nou, where they demolished their eternal rivals and gained the right to be in the final of the Copa del Rey," said Capaldi. "Real look in very good form and Jose Mourinho was right in trusting the 19-year-old French defender Raphael Varane, who played with intelligence, accuracy and self-belief."
Tottenham, currently third in the league, was voted fourth for its Bale-inspired 2-1 victory over Arsenal, just three points behind Bayern, while a 3-0 win over Lazio nudged AC Milan two spots ahead of Serie A leader Juventus in fifth place with 103 points. The last five teams — Liverpool, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Inter Milan — all got less than 60 votes each.
A hat trick was only enough for fourth place for Liverpool's Uruguay striker, Luis Suarez, meaning three of the top four players perform in the Premier League. He was awarded 136 points, 60 ahead of fifth-place Robert Lewandowski, the Poland forward who scored twice in Borussia Dortmund's 3-1 victory over Hannover.
Italy's Giampaolo Pazzini made his first appearance in the top 10 in sixth place after scoring twice for Milan against Lazio. Francesco Totti, Roma's 36-year-old captain, continues to prove his brilliance with a penalty that made it 225 goals for a single club, equaling Swedish great Gunnar Nordahl from the 1950s for second place on Serie A's all-time scoring list.
AP Global Soccer Rankings for week ending March 3.
Based on 22 voters, using 10 points for top to 1 point for bottom place.
(Previous rankings in parentheses)
1. Gareth Bale, 170 points.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, 167.
3. Shinji Kagawa, 159.
4. Luis Suarez, 136.
5. Robert Lewandowski, 76.
6. Giampaolo Pazzini, 54.
7. Rodrigo Palacio, 48.
8. Francesco Totti, 43.
9. Raphael Varane, 37.
10. Julian Draxler, 33.
1. Real Madrid, (10), 202 points.
2. Manchester United, ((3), 157.
3. Bayern Munich, (1), 148.
4. Tottenham Hotspurs, 145
5. AC Milan, (2), 103.
6. Liverpool, 57.
7. Juventus, (6), 52.
8. Borussia Dortmund, 43.
9. FC Schalke, 31.
10. Inter Milan, 29.