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Benzema bids Madrid farewell in style

China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-06 09:54
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Karim Benzema is thrown into the air by Real Madrid teammates
after his final game for the club on Sunday. AP

BARCELONA — Karim Benzema converted a penalty and received a standing ovation from fans before being substituted at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, bringing an end to his memorable career with Real Madrid on Sunday.

Benzema was replaced after scoring the 72nd-minute equalizer in Madrid's 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao in his final game with the Spanish powerhouse after 14 seasons. Madrid had announced earlier on Sunday that the French striker would not return next season.

The last round of the Spanish league also saw Vinicius Junior's return to action for the first time since he was racially abused in a league match against Valencia two weeks ago, as well as Real Valladolid's relegation.

Vinicius hadn't played in the last two Madrid games following the latest incident of racist insults directed at him in Valencia on May 21, prompting a widespread reaction from Spanish authorities and the soccer world. The club had said he was sidelined with a minor knee problem.

The Brazil forward wasn't able to score, having a 79th-minute goal disallowed for offside.

Benzema did find the net in his farewell match.

He fired in a low shot from the spot, then celebrated by blowing kisses to the crowd at the Bernabeu. He was immediately substituted by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, receiving a big ovation from the fans.

"I've coached one of the greatest players in the world and one of the best strikers," Ancelotti said. "We can't be pleased about his departure, but we have to respect his decision. He's earned the right to choose and we all thank him for everything he's done for this club. He's been a legendary, unforgettable figure, and he'll remain forever in the memory of this club."

Benzema's farewell came amid reports he will play in Saudi Arabia next season.

After the match, Madrid players threw Benzema up in the air a few times, as they did for the other players not returning next season — Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard and Mariano Diaz.

Still wearing the captain's armband, Benzema walked over to the stands to applaud the fans.

The result allowed Madrid to finish in second place ahead of Atletico Madrid, which drew 2-2 at Villarreal after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer.

"It was a pleasure to play with him," Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said of Benzema. "He is an excellent player, a legend. It's a pity that he is leaving but we understand that he has the right to choose his destiny."

The 35-year-old striker has been with Madrid since 2009. He helped the club win a record 25 titles, including five Champions Leagues, five Club World Cups and four Spanish leagues.

Benzema ended his Madrid career with 354 goals from 648 appearances.

Falling short

Valladolid could not find a way through against Getafe and was relegated.

"There's little explanation, the team tried, we tried to make it hard for Getafe but we didn't do it," said Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip.

"It's a huge shame for all the team, all the fans, all the city, I can't say much more. We needed to score, there was no other way."

Valladolid's final hope would have been a late Espanyol winner against Almeria, but the Andalusians held on for a 3-3 draw to survive by a point in 17th place.

Valencia was another team who started the day in danger but it earned a 1-1 draw at Real Betis, who said their own goodbye to captain Joaquin Sanchez.

The 41-year-old is retiring and made his 622nd appearance in the top flight, equaling the all-time record first set by goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta.

"It's a special day, a beautiful day, when I am with my people, my family, the club that gave me everyone," an emotional Joaquin told Spanish broadcaster Movistar, kissing the Estadio Benito Villamarin pitch when he was substituted.


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