Last updated : 10 June 2007 By Editor

When will David Beckham stop hogging all the best scripts? On a night of extraordinary drama, England's returned hero, his country's saviour, took a full part in a spectacular reversal of fortune. It has taken him to within touching distance of a league title on his final day as a Real Madrid footballer, a first trophy for him and for them in four years.

Five minutes from the end of this, the penultimate fixture in La Liga, Madrid thought their lead in the table had been eaten away. 2-1 down while Barcelona led elsewhere, the gap between the top two clubs was three points. Then, in Catalonia, Espanyol drew level in the derby, and Ruud van Nistelrooy took Madrid to 2-2 in Zaragoza. The tables had turned utterly.

Madrid now need only match or better what Barcelona do next Sunday to win the championship. In front of their own crowd, Beckham and company can be relied on to oblige. The drama would be played out to a theatrical backdrop last night. Squally thunder and lightning accompanied a vivid atmosphere, with Zaragoza, placed fifth, pursuing points that would gain their place in next year's Uefa Cup, and of course wanting to put one over the grandees from the capital.

A piece in the Independent yesterday:

Discarded by Sir Alex Ferguson last summer, the Dutch forward tells Jack Rashleigh that he is delighted to have become the pivotal figure in Real Madrid's late but determined title challenge

When Ruud van Nistelrooy made his debut for Real Madrid last August he had just turned 30. The striker had recently been dumped by Manchester United and the Netherlands, and had ended up in Spain, where it seemed he would play out the remainder of his career in the sizeable shadow of Ronaldo, who had just boasted he would score 30 goals for Real this season. Van Nistelrooy was nobody's favourite to win Europe's Golden Boot.

Ten months later, Ronaldo, having scored just three goals for Real Madrid in the first half of the season, is long gone - sold to Milan in January. Van Nistelrooy is the one with 30 goals. He has played more matches for Real than any other outfield player this season and is just two matches from helping them to win the Spanish title.

Also, if he scores three more goals in those two games then the Golden Boot, the prize for Europe's most prolific domestic goalscorer will be his. Well, a share of it will, with Roma's Francesco Totti.

Van Nistelrooy has too much respect for Sir Alex Ferguson to use his remarkable first season away at the Bernabeu as a with which stick to beat his old manager, but he admits that this campaign is turning into the perfect response to all those who wrote him off as soon as Ferguson sent him packing.

Of the possibility of a Golden Boot-La Liga double, he said: "It would be a fantastic achievement. It will be great if that's the way things work out but you can't plan these things. I just have to keep playing the way I'm playing and, hopefully, at the end of the season I can look back on winning a great trophy and an individual award for myself as well.

"I just wanted to continue after I left United," he added. "I know where I come from. Sometimes you have to deal with certain disappointments and overcome them. That is the way I like to look at things. Each disappointment is a challenge that can make me better if I come through it and show my character. Maybe I didn't expect things to go quite this well in my first season, but I just kept going and going and now we are in the final phase of the League and we are looking good and I'm having an OK season too and I just want it to continue."

Ruud's "OK" season has at times involved him almost single-handedly keeping Real Madrid in touch with the early front-runners Barcelona. In the first half of the season they had very little to offer apart from his goals and goalkeeper Iker Casillas' saves.Having finally caught and overtaken Barcelona on a better head-to-head record, Real, who are playing far more attacking football and averaging three goals a game, just need to win their last two matches to claim the title. Whatever happens, though, Van Nistelrooy will be the club's player of the season.

He has scored over a third of Real Madrid's goals this campaign and his current strike rate is almost a goal every other shot. Twenty-three of the club's 61 goals in the League have come from him and, often playing up-front alone in a cautious team, he has made the most of the scant chances that have come his way. During Real's run of nine wins in the last 11 games since March he has averaged a goal every 2.3 attempts.

The Dutch striker has more than paid back the £10.3m transfer fee he cost last July and banished the ghost of Ronaldo, whose feat of scoring in six successive Real games he matched in their last League match, a 3-1 home win over Deportivo la Coruña.

Should Van Nistelrooy score tonight when Real travel to Zaragoza, he will draw level with another club legend, Hugo Sanchez, who once scored in seven consecutive matches.

The Mexican, who netted 207 goals in 283 games with Real between 1985 and 1992, will be proud to have Van Nistelrooy equal his record: "He is still one of the best strikers in the world," Sanchez said. "He is a dying breed in terms of the way he plays with aggression both with and without the ball. And he is such a good finisher - often with his first touch."

Van Nistelrooy admits that winning the Golden Boot in his first season after switching leagues would be a great achievement. "The level is so high both in the Premiership and La Liga," he said. "It's a bit different the way they play here because the game is not so fluent, the referees stop the play a lot more. I just had to adjust to a new place and a new country."

Having won the Premiership without him, many Manchester United fans would argue he has not been missed. But what price his firepower in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final in Milan, where a toothless display saw United limp out of the competition? Van Nistelrooy has countered the argument that his career is on a downward curve with a season that runs his best one at United close. In 2002-03 he netted 25 League goals and 14 in Europe. This season's haul of 31 in all competitions has certainly justified Fabio Capello's decision to gamble on one of Ferguson's cast-offs.

"He has been fantastic," admitted the Real coach, who made the signing of Van Nistelrooy his priority when he took over at the Bernabeu last summer. "There are few strikers in the world who have his instinct in front of goal."