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Messi, Ronaldo's scoring duel mirrors title race

MADRID — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are locked in a personal duel for European scoring records that is carrying Barcelona and Real Madrid toward a tantalizing finale in the fight for the Spanish league title.

With the two powerhouses set to meet next week in a "clasico" that could well decide the title race, Ronaldo kept Madrid four points ahead of its rival by matching his own record of 40 league goals in one season Wednesday by scoring a hat trick in a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid.

That put him one ahead of Messi in the league and took his overall tally on the season to 52. Messi, however, has 61 goals overall which leaves the Barcelona forward only two shy of matching Everton's Dixie Dean's 63-goal tally from the 1927-28 season — the record by a player in Europe's major leagues.

Madrid faces Sporting Gijon on Saturday when Barcelona travels to Levante.