Benzema stars in 2-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Wednesday
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane hailed the side after the defending champions registered a 2-0 win against Borussia Moenchengladbach to avoid a humiliating group stage elimination in the UEFA Champions League 2020-21 on Wednesday.
Real are Europe’s most decorated club with 13 European Cups but they needed to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach in Madrid to be sure of making it through the group stage of the Champions League for a 24th straight year.
Benzema was their hero, easing the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane with two fine back-post headers in the first half securing a 2-0 win in a game played behind closed doors at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
The Frenchman also hit the bar in the second half and in the end it was a result that suited both teams, with a 0-0 draw between Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk allowing Real to top Group B and Gladbach, former European Cup runners-up, to go through as runners-up.
Players from the German club gathered around smartphones and laptops after full time in Madrid to follow events in Milan, where a winner for either team would have knocked Gladbach out.
They celebrated wildly when their qualification was confirmed.
“Moments like that live long in the memory. It was absolutely incredible and the joy was uncontainable,” said Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer.
Madrid finished as group winners on 10 points, ahead of runners-up Gladbach on eight despite the defeat, as Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan drew 0-0 in the other Group B clash.
President Florentino Perez was spotted in the tunnel before the game and his presence seemed to focus Madrid minds, as they put on their best performance of the season in their most important game so far.
“It was a good game for us,” Benzema told Movistar. “Each match is a final and I think that if we always play how we did today, no team can hurt us. “This was a very difficult game, we started it well and with the desire to show that we are the best.”
Makeshift right-back Lucas Vazquez curled in a cross and Benzema produced a fine header to break the deadlock after just nine minutes.
Madrid kept an iron grip on the game until Gladbach forward Alassane Plea broke free but dinked wide of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
Benzema doubled the lead with a clone of his first strike, nodding home from Rodrygo’s cross from the right in the 32nd minute.
Madrid came close to adding a third from the same avenue, with Vazquez crossing for the evergreen Luka Modric, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort onto the post.
The Croatian midfielder, 35, lashed home shortly afterwards but the strike was ruled out for an offside call against Raphael Varane in the build-up.
Madrid continued to dominate after the break, looking back to their best ahead of the weekend derby clash in La Liga with Atletico Madrid.
Sommer made a brilliant save to claw out a header from Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on his return from injury, with Benzema crashing the rebound against the crossbar.
Vazquez drilled an effort against the near post as Zidane’s rampant side coasted to victory, allowing the coach some breathing room after a troubled start to the season.
Two defeats by Shakhtar Donetsk had left Madrid in a tight spot in the Champions League and their situation was compounded by disappointing losses against Cadiz, Valencia and Alaves in La Liga.
“The objective was to finish first and we did it,” a proud Zidane told Movistar. “We played a spectacular game today. I think it was our most complete of the season, from minute one to the end we did very well.”
Gladbach created little of note and found it impossible to escape Madrid’s relentless press, showing few similarities to the side which almost shocked the Spanish champions in the 2-2 draw they shared in October.
“It’s really amazing, we played our worst game of the whole group stage today, but we are still through, and deservedly so,” Gladbach captain Lars Stindl told DAZN.
The visiting players gathered around an electronic tablet at the end of the game to watch the final moments of Inter’s draw with Shakhtar, before they could celebrate reaching the Champions League last 16 for the first time.
“It was a strange feeling because we couldn’t really be happy after our game. We just had to hope, and the emotion flooded out at the end,” Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer added on Sky. “We deserved to go through, even if we had no chance against Real Madrid.”
Shakhtar go into the Europa League while Inter finish bottom of their group, failing to reach the last-16 for a third season running.
Meanwhile Atletico needed to beat Red Bull Salzburg in Austria to qualify as runners-up in Group A behind Bayern Munich, and did so with Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco scoring in a 2-0 victory.
“I think in the nine years we’ve been here, we have reached the last 16 eight times,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. “I enjoy looking back at that. Lots of people will say it’s just normal for us but I don’t think it’s normal.”
Salzburg now go into the Europa League while reigning European champions Bayern completed the group stage unbeaten as Niklas Suele and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting gave them a 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.
The other team to clinch qualification on Wednesday was Atalanta, whose 1-0 win away to Ajax secured second place in Group D behind Liverpool and a last-16 spot for the second year running.
Luis Muriel scored a late winner for Atalanta in Amsterdam after Ryan Gravenberch was sent off for the hosts, who drop into the Europa League.
Already through, Liverpool were able to give a chance to several younger players in their 1-1 draw with Midtjylland in Denmark, where Mohamed Salah put the 2019 winners ahead early on but Alexander Scholz’s penalty gave the hosts an honourable draw.
PSG had wrapped up their qualification for the last 16 on Tuesday thanks to Manchester United’s defeat at RB Leipzig, despite their own game being suspended after an unprecedented walkout.
Both sets of players refused to continue after a row erupted over an alleged racist remark by the fourth official aimed at Basaksehir’s assistant coach, Pierre Webo.
With a new set of officials, the game restarted in the 14th minute on Wednesday and an irresistible Neymar scored a hat-trick while also winning a penalty converted by Kylian Mbappe.
That was Mbappe’s first Champions League goal in 12 months, and he scored again later on after Mehmet Topal pulled one back. With their 5-1 victory, PSG go through as group winners.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City made it five wins and a draw in Group D as they eased to a 3-0 victory against Marseille with Ferran Torres and Sergio Aguero getting second-half goals before an Alvaro Gonzalez own goal.
Also already qualified, Porto beat Olympiakos 2-0 in Piraeus courtesy of Otavio’s early penalty and a Matheus Uribe goal. The Greeks, who ended with 10 men, finish third in the section.
The draw for the last 16 is on Monday.