Real Madrid may have lost 4-3 to Manchester City in the first leg of the Uefa Champions League semi-finals, but their hopes of winning the competition for a record 14th time have been kept alive once again by the exploits of Karim Benzema.
The French striker, 34, scored two goals in a classic at the Etihad Stadium. He netted his first on 33 minutes after sweeping home Ferland Mendy’s cross. His second, a brilliant “Panenka” penalty, ensured a grandstand second leg next Wednesday in Spain.
‘Ice cold, this guy’
Showing “nerves of steel” with eight minutes remaining, Real captain Benzema “dinked” his spot-kick over City keeper Ederson to make it 4-3 on the night, said BBC Sport. The “nonchalance summed up a sensational match” between two of Europe’s heavyweights.
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Speaking on BT Sport, former England defender Rio Ferdinand praised the forward’s confidence for the vital spot kick. He’s “ice cold, this guy”, Ferdinand said of the four-time Champions League winner. “Even if it was in the last minute, he would’ve still executed it.”
With context, the “audacious” Panenka is “even more breathtaking” when you consider that he has missed three out of his last four penalties, including two in the same game against Osasuna last week, said Daniel Davis in the Daily Mail.
Benzema said it was “mental confidence, that’s all” on his Panenka. “I have a lot of confidence in myself so I do it and it turns out well.” He also revealed that he changed his technique after being studied by opposition goalkeepers. Even he admitted that his penalty was “cold blooded”.
One of the world’s great strikers
Death, taxes, Benzema scoring in the Champions League. “Some things are just certainties in life,” said Anish Dogra on talkSPORT. After his brace in Manchester, he has now netted 14 goals in the competition this season, surpassing Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.
Benzema netted five times in the group stages, but it’s been in the knockouts where he has really made the headlines. In the round of 16 he netted a second-leg hat-trick as Real came back to beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 on aggregate. Then in the quarter-finals against Chelsea he scored another hat-trick in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and a 96th-minute extra-time header at the Bernabéu to send Real through to the semi-finals 5-4 on aggregate.
With Benzema in their attack, Real will “always have hope”, said Phil McNulty on the BBC. The Frenchman deserves his place in the “upper echelons of the great strikers in world football”.
Favourite to win the Ballon d’Or?
After 66 goals in 148 games for Lyon, Benzema left the French club for Madrid in 2009. He has now racked up 600 appearances for the Spanish giants and scored 320 goals. This makes him the club’s third-highest goalscorer of all-time behind former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (450) and Raúl (323). He has also won an impressive 20 trophies during his time at the Bernabéu: four Champions Leagues, four Club World Cups, three Uefa Super Cups, three La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys and four Spanish Super Cups.
With his milestone appearance at the Etihad, Benzema has equalled Paco Gento for the number of games in a Real shirt, Marca reported. He has “undoubtedly” been the “most decisive player” in the Champions League this season, but with 41 goals in 41 games for Real across all competitions this also makes him “favourite to win the Ballon d’Or”.
Ahead of the first leg, Man City midfielder İlkay Gündoğan said Benzema has “everything it takes” to win the Ballon d’Or. And his chances of scooping the award in 2022 might have been improved by a “change of criteria which means players will now be judged over the course of a typical club season rather than a calendar year”, said James Walker-Roberts on Eurosport.
Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has regularly praised the skipper for his leadership and for setting an example to the rest of the squad. “He has so much personality,” Ancelotti said after Real’s win at Chelsea earlier this month. “He knows he’s a very important player here. Karim improves every day like a fine wine.”
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