Benzema Shows Survival Spirit After Leading Real Madrid to Victory Again

Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante (2R) challenges Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Real Madrid and Chelsea on April 27, 2021 at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid.

Real Madrid might not make the Champions League final, but Karim Benzema has given them a chance, his brilliant performance against Chelsea embodying a squad that still doesn’t know when it is beaten.

Benzema’s thunderbolt volley equalises Madrid at the end of a first leg that should have been won decisively by Chelsea, who were the superior team overall and making their rivals look tired, rigid, and somewhat out of date for 25 minutes.

However, the most recent additions to Real Madrid’s 13 European Cups have resulted from their ability to adapt these games to their will, to survive the winds and then accelerate when the wind is behind them.

They have repeatedly shown that they are masters of the moment, their confidence that in the end they will prevail creating certainty when it is most needed and their rivals, doubt, just when they believe they have the upper hand.

It stems from a history of success and the arrogance of a club confident that it has won the right to compete in a Super League, only ever against the best teams, avoiding the need to qualify, and for theoretical fans who see Real Madrid winning as the beginning and end of the sport.

It comes from a coach, Zinedine Zidane, whose ideology is calm rather than possession or pushing, and from players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and, on Tuesday night, Benzema.

Benzema showed the first signs of recovery eight minutes before his goal. He robbed Antonio Rudiger on the halfway line and played two kicks, each time demanding the ball back, before circling into the centre and firing a shot that shaved the outside of the post.

It was a trigger in the stadium, with Madrid’s replacements rising to their feet and Ramos standing behind them, flapping his hands and shouting “Come on guys! That’s it! Now a little more! Believe it!”

Chelsea was still in power, but their hegemony started to wane at that point. Benzema sped up another counter-attack down the right, his punching pass out to Toni Kroos on the opposite side leading to Kroos winning the corner, which led to Benzema throwing his body at the ball and the ball flying into Chelsea’s net.

Chelsea’s German defender Antonio Ruediger (C) challenges Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Real Madrid and Chelsea at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on April 27, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

‘Without a doubt’ Benzema is one of the strongest.

“Benzema took credit for reviving the belief of a team that seemed to be creaking, and to a large extent they are, but they still find something more,” El Pais wrote.

“There are no questions that Benzema belongs to the most prestigious class of footballers,” Marca said. “He jolted the team awake,” AS wrote.

When Benzema signed his first professional contract with Lyon, he was required to make an initiation speech at a squad dinner, and the cocky 20-year-old irritated some of the senior players by telling them he would soon take their place.

Thirteen years later, he is the fourth most prolific goalscorer in Champions League history, tied with Raul on 71, behind only Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Robert Lewandowski.

If recognition has come late, it is due in part to Benzema’s saving of his best for last, his blossoming into an elegant yet lethal number nine occurring after many had perhaps made up their minds: Ronaldo’s support act could never be among the very best himself.

But, just as his late equaliser against Atletico Madrid last month kept Real Madrid alive in La Liga, his intervention against Chelsea kept them alive in the Champions League as well.

“Nothing shocks me about Karim,” said Zidane, who had taken him off in the 89th minute, a move intended to give the home crowd a chance to applaud.

Instead, Zidane walked in, a smile on his face, a hand on his shoulder, another moment seized and the final in sight.

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