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Benzema points way for Madrid

Frenchman the key for defending champ again after dispatching Liverpool with ease

Updated: 2023-03-17 08:57
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Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid during Wednesday's Champions League last-16, second leg against Liverpool at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on Wednesday. Madrid won 1-0 to progress to the quarterfinals 6-2 and ensure last year's beaten finalist Liverpool will end the season trophy-less. AP

MADRID — Karim Benzema struck for Real Madrid to clinch a 1-0 win over Liverpool and qualification for the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday 6-2 on aggregate.

After the wild last-16, first-leg clash at Anfield in February left Madrid sitting pretty with a three-goal advantage, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said his side only had a one-percent chance of turning the tie around.

Liverpool stemmed the bleeding at the Santiago Bernabeu but never looked like mounting a stirring comeback of the type it managed against Barcelona in 2019, or AC Milan in the 2005 final.

Madrid has now knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League in three consecutive seasons, including beating the Reds in last year's final.

"It was a complicated game but from the start we showed we wanted to go through, and we are in the quarterfinals," Benzema told Movistar.

"Suffering is part of today's football. Everyone wants more, but sometimes you have to suffer in a game — the most important thing is to win and go through."

The 14-time record winner showed the nous to keep Liverpool at arm's length, with defenders Eder Militao and Antonio Rudiger determined to shut out the visitor, along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Reigning champion Madrid could have significantly stretched its lead, save for a series of superb stops by Liverpool stopper Alisson Becker and some unusually profligate finishing.

Madrid was lethal in the first leg, with Vinicius Junior and Benzema netting twice each — but neither were as decisive on Wednesday. Yet eventually they combined for Madrid's winner after 78 minutes, with Vinicius slipping as he tried to shoot, but hooking the ball into Benzema's path for a simple tap-in.

Madrid's only worry was seeing its captain limp off after his goal amid an injury-hit season — Benzema said it was only a blow on the shin and Carlo Ancelotti confirmed he would be fit to face Barcelona in the Clasico on Sunday.

"Madrid was in control of the whole game, Ali had to make two sensational saves to keep us in the game," Klopp told reporters. "Madrid was outstanding and that's why the better team went through to the next round."

No magic

Liverpool, deeply inconsistent in this campaign, took heart from its 7-0 thrashing of Manchester United in the Premier League, but could not produce the same magic under the Bernabeu lights.

Klopp started with Diogo Jota alongside his usual attacking trio of Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, deploying as much firepower as he could to try to mount a comeback.

The first chance of the game fell to Nunez but Courtois thwarted the Uruguayan, who was fed by Salah.

At the other end, Madrid sliced open Liverpool on various occasions, and Alisson made a stunning save to deny Vinicius from point-blank range.

Eduardo Camavinga crashed a long-range effort against the crossbar, with Alisson getting his fingertips to it.

The Brazilian goalkeeper made further saves from Vinicius, Fede Valverde and Benzema as Madrid controlled the game.

Camavinga impressed in midfield and eventually helped create Benzema's goal, with a driven pass forward in the buildup.

"I told him a few small details, like how I know that the two Liverpool centerbacks play open, there's space in the middle, and that's how we scored the goal," explained Benzema.

The French striker has now scored seven times in the Champions League against Liverpool, more than any other player, and is key to Madrid's bid to lift the trophy for a sixth time in 10 seasons, if he can stay fit.

Madrid played classic Liverpool anthem You'll Never Walk Alone at the end of the game, at once a classy touch but also showing Liverpool never made the host truly uncomfortable.

Klopp's side will now try to salvage its season with a top-four finish in the Premier League to secure a Champions League spot. The Reds are six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham following their 1-0 loss at Bournemouth last Saturday. Liverpool does not play again until its clash with Manchester City after the upcoming international break on April 1.

"When we get back from the international break we have a proper football week ahead of us, with three games, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, which will then probably define what we get out of it," said Klopp.


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