When Real Madrid’s Champions League hopes were about to come to an end, the gates of the Santiago Bernabéu at home saw the fans walk out of the stadium. Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola smiled at the assumption. But then, something changed.
In the 90th minute, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema sent the ball to Rodrygo.
In overtime, Benzema netted and put the penalty kick to put Los Blancos ahead, completing another fantastic comeback.
Real Madrid revived the dying Colosseum into an altar of white royals as Carlo Ancelotti and the entire stadium exploded in joy. Real reached the finals of the Champions League, a record for the 17th time.
back Los Blancos In the Champions League this season it was not an anomaly, but a recurring event – each one was more impulsive than the previous one.
The star of all three knockout matches – Karim Benzema.
The 34-year-old scored a hat-trick and the equalizing goal against defending champions Chelsea, and was directly involved in two of the three goals in the second leg against Manchester City that led Real to the final.
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Benzema was important when the Spanish club needed him most – a perfect definition of a clutch player, a situation that Cristiano Ronaldo used to enjoy at the same club not too long ago.
The Frenchman had joined Real Madrid at a time when club president Florentino Perez was signing a new generation of Galacticians – those who pass the baton to – from Ronaldo Nazario, Luis Figo, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane.
World Cup winners Kaka (AC Milan), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) and Xabi Alonso (Liverpool) joined the club in the 2009-10 transfer window – all Champions League winners with their previous clubs.
Then came Benzema, the wayward 21-year-old striker from Lyon for £30m.
In his first season, he spent most of the time on the bench as Ronaldo Kaka and then favorite striker Gonzalo Higuain enjoyed regular playing time. Higuain scored 27 goals in 32 league matches, while Benzema scored eight.
With coaches switching from Manuel Pellegrini to Jose Mourinho, Benzema’s form initially improved, but the manager’s confidence in the striker continued to erode as (Cristiano) Ronaldo was favored as the No.9.
Benzema experienced a frosty relationship with former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who departed in 2013. Image: GETTY IMAGES
When Real Madrid won their first title – the King’s Cup – under Mourinho, Benzema did not start.
The feud between the two eventually got ugly as Mourinho publicly criticized the French striker.
“If I can’t hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat. With a dog, you hunt more and you hunt better. But if you don’t have a dog and you have a cat, you hunt with a cat,” he said of Benzema.
Mourinho left two years later. The manager that followed was Ancelotti – one, Benzema found his moments in the sun.
After signing a record-breaking Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur, Bale, Benzema and Cristiano formed one of Europe’s fiercest attacking trebles – nicknamed the BBC. By January 2018, the trio had added 400 goals between them for Real Madrid.
The trio of Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo have led Real Madrid to unprecedented success in the Champions League. Photo: Agence France-Presse
The main striker lights still belong to Ronaldo. As the Portugal international became the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, Benzema’s goals per season dropped to less than 20 initially and then to under 15.
His tenure with the national team also took an ugly turn. After being embroiled in a sex tape extortion scandal for his colleague in France, Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema was removed from the Euro 2016 squad on home soil and did not wear Les blues jersey for six years.
When Ronaldo left Real Madrid in 2018 with 451 goals to his name, he turned to Benzema in search of solutions.
Shamr Benzema, Jimmy Valentine of the Santiago Bernabeu, rolled up his sleeves, took off his socks and made a stunning comeback, scoring 30 goals in the club’s first season since Ronaldo’s departure.
The 34-year-old has not looked back since.
He rose from the wreckage of oblivion for the national team as well, returning to France in June 2021. He won the Bronze Boot at the European Championship, finishing the tournament as the third top scorer with four goals.
In this year’s Champions League, he led the attack from the front, scored two hat-tricks and orchestrated an amazing comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City in the round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
Despite losing six years of international football, he is France’s fifth-best scorer with 35 goals and only one goal difference to become Real Madrid’s second-best scorer with Raúl (322 goals).
This season, he has 43 goals and 14 assists in 43 games – his best season ever at Real Madrid.
The French striker had arrived at the Bernabeu as an option for the future amid a crowd of the game’s stars.
More than all of them, he lived in Madrid and became a legend for the club, reaching the Champions League final as captain, striker and above all, a galaxy.