It was an inspired piece of skill by Karin Benzema that shattered Atletico Madrid’s hopes of a comeback in the semifinals of the Champions League.
The French striker’s spectacular move to evade three Atletico defenders led to the crucial away goal that helped put Real Madrid in the final against Juventus on June 3 in Cardiff.
The goal by Francisco “Isco” Alarcon just before halftime halted Atletico’s onslaught and allowed Madrid to advance to its third final in four seasons with a 4-2 aggregate score following a 2-1 loss yesterday [Macau time].
“Benzema’s move changed the game,” Madrid midfielder Casemiro said.
With Atletico winning 2-0 and close to overturning the 3-0 loss from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Benzema showed why he remains one of the best strikers in the world.
He picked up the ball near the left corner and quickly found himself surrounded by Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic and Diego Godin, three of Atletico’s best defenders.
Benzema apparently wanted to go back toward the midfield but suddenly changed direction and took the ball toward the end line, where he stopped and used a couple of quick touches to fool the defenders and get past them into the open space.
“After the game, I asked Benzema how he got out of there, and he said he didn’t know either,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “But it gave us a goal.”
Benzema sped into the area after clearing the defenders and sent a backward pass to Toni Kroos, whose shot was initially saved by goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Isco was nearby and picked up the rebound to easily score from close range.
“Karim is an incredibly great player and today he helped us with his magic,” Madrid left back Marcelo said.
Isco’s goal at the Vicente Calderon Stadium left Atletico in need of scoring three more goals to advance to the final and avoid another Champions League elimination against the city rival. Madrid defeated Atletico in the final last year and in 2014, and also eliminated the crosstown opponent in the quarterfinals in 2015.
“A moment of genius from Benzema ended our dream,” Atletico captain Gabi Fernandez said.
The goal allowed Madrid to match Bayern Munich’s record of 61 consecutive games scoring at least one goal in all competitions, a feat the German club achieved from 2013-14. Madrid has scored 167 goals since a 0-0 draw at Manchester City in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals last year.
Madrid, an 11-time European champion, will try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the competition’s new format was created in 1992. It will be the first club to have a chance to defend its title since Manchester United made consecutive finals in 2008-09.
Now, another great of European soccer stands in their way.
Italian champions Juventus, who progressed with a 4-1 aggregate win over Monaco, are attempting to win their first Champions League title in 21 years.
The final will be a replay of the 1998 showpiece, when Real were crowned European champions for the seventh time – after a 32-year wait – thanks to Predrag Mijatovic’s goal.
And it means a reunion for Madrid French manager, who played in that final for the Italian side, with his former club.
“It has been a very important club for me in my career and I keep it as a club that has given me everything. It is going to be something special,” said ‘Zizou’, who played for Juve between 1996 and 2001. MDT/Agencies
Champions of champions
Real Madrid have reached the European Cup/Champions League final for a record 15th time, ahead of AC Milan (11)
Real have reached two successive finals for the first time since they won the trophy five times in a row between 1956 and 1960
The Spanish club need just one more goal to become the first team to score 500 in the Champions League
Real have won 11 of their 14 European Cup finals
Juventus have won the trophy twice, losing a record six finals
Both Real and Juventus join AC Milan on a record six final appearances in the Champions League
Atletico became the first team to be eliminated by the same opponents four times in a row
Football weekend: What to watch in Europe’s main leagues
Three games left, three points needed.
That’s the task facing Chelsea in a Premier League title race it has dominated since November.
Chelsea’s first opportunity to clinch the trophy comes at West Bromwich Albion on Friday. If Chelsea fails to win, Tottenham – seven points behind in second place – must beat Manchester United on Sunday to keep the race alive.
Chelsea’s other two matches are at home to Watford and Sunderland.
The relegation battle could also be settled this weekend, with third-to-last Hull in danger of going down along with already-demoted Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
Hull is one point behind Swansea. If Swansea beats Sunderland on Saturday, Hull must beat Crystal Palace away on Sunday to take the relegation fight to the final weekend.
Real Madrid has its toughest remaining challenge in the title race on Sunday when it hosts fourth-placed Sevilla for its final league game at home this season.
Madrid needs a victory to keep its fate in its own hands as the side bids for its first title since 2012.
Madrid and Barcelona are level on points atop the standings, with Barcelona ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker. But Madrid still has three games to play, while Barcelona has two.
Barcelona visits Las Palmas at the same time on Sunday.
Barcelona’s last game is at home against mid-table Eibar, while Madrid has games at Celta Vigo and Malaga.
Sevilla needs at least a draw in its final two matches to secure fourth place and a qualification spot for the Champions League.
Juventus can take the first step toward a treble when it visits Roma on Sunday.
A draw at the capital side would be enough to hand Juventus an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A crown, with two matches to spare.
Defeat would leave it four points ahead of second-placed Roma and five ahead of Napoli if the latter wins at Torino.
Since Serie A was founded in 1929, no club has won more than five straight titles. Juventus won five straight from 1931-35, Torino did it from 1943-49 (including a season that was canceled because of World War II), and Inter Milan did it from 2006-10.
If Juventus fails in the capital, it is likely to secure the title next weekend, at home to relegation-threatened Crotone.
Between those two matches, it faces Lazio in the Italian Cup final on Wednesday. Juventus then plays Real Madrid in the Champions League final on June 3.
Elsewhere, AC Milan is still looking for its first win under its new owners and it travels to Atalanta, while Inter Milan hosts Sassuolo in its first match since sacking coach Stefano Pioli. Youth team coach Stefano Vecchi will be in charge.
Benfica can win a fourth straight Portuguese league for the first time.
A win on Saturday against Vitoria Guimaraes, a team it has beaten the last seven times at home, will be enough to give Benfica an unsurmountable lead ahead of the last round.
Benfica is five points ahead of rival FC Porto with two matches to go. Porto hosts Pacos Ferreira on Sunday.
Porto was the last team to win four consecutive titles, from 2006-09. It also won five in a row, from 1995-99.
Although Monaco’s European dream is over after losing to Juventus in the Champions League semifinals, winning the French league seems an inevitable reality.
Monaco can seal the title on Sunday if it beats Lille at home and defending champion Paris Saint-Germain fails to win at Saint-Etienne.
Monaco has thrilled Europe with its attacking football, scoring 150 goals in all competitions and needing just two more to reach 100 in the league.
Saint-Etienne, an industrial city with a loyal fan base of fervent supporters, is one of the toughest away trips in Ligue 1. The atmosphere at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard will be even more emotionally charged due to it being hugely popular coach Christophe Galtier’s last home game in charge.
Feyenoord has one final chance to grab its first Eredivisie title since 1999 when it plays Heracles Almelo in Rotterdam on Sunday. Archrival Ajax could win its 34th title if Feyenoord slips up for a second weekend straight.
Going into the last round, Feyenoord has a one-point lead over Ajax, which takes on Willem II in Tilburg on Sunday.
Feyenoord missed the chance to secure its 15th Dutch title last Sunday in a nervy 3-0 defeat at Excelsior, disappointing tens of thousands of fans who gathered in downtown Rotterdam and at Feyenoord’s home stadium, De Kuip, ready to celebrate.