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Benzema responds when called upon
Editorial

Benzema responds when called upon

Real Madrid are through to the knockout rounds of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League thanks to a 2-1 triumph over Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday night in Lisbon.

Raphael Varane gave Real the lead in the 29th minute, but Sporting answered back in the 79th minute through a penalty conversion, before Karim Benzema broke the hearts of the home fans with a winner in the 87th minute.

The match marked the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to his boyhood club, but for the large part the Portuguese superstar was anonymous on the evening, much like the rest of his teammates. However, Real rose up when they needed to and now can take top honours in Group F with a win at home over Borussia Dortmund in two weeks' time on the final matchday.

Apart from defender Sergio Ramos who was finally deemed healthy after his injury, it was the same starting XI for Real that took the field in the Calderon last Saturday's 3-0 derby win. The injuries to regular starters Toni Kroos and Benzema once again opened up chances for midfielders Isco and Lucas Vazquez, as manager Zinedine Zidane tweaked his formation from a 4-3-3 into more of a 4-2-3-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo in the centre-forward role.

There was a nice flow to the match from the outset. Sporting showed the same mettle that nearly landed them a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in September, while Real withstood the early pressure and started imposing their will on the Portuguese hosts. But it was a bit of good fortune that enabled Los Blancos to score the game's first goal just shy of the half-hour mark. Luka Modric swung in a free kick from the right that Ronaldo scuffed badly, but it dribbled right to the onside Varane, who spun and fired in past Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio for the 1-0 advantage.

Sporting immediately looked to answer the Varane goal with an equaliser, and Bruno Cesar nearly did just that after a beautiful build-up from Sporting on the right side, but Ramos alertly redirected the shot out for a corner kick with a reaction header. Minutes before the break Bruno Cesar again had the fans ready to celebrate a goal, this via a free kick, but his curling effort went buzzing just wide of the near post.

Sporting continued to play positive football to start the second half, but quickly the story became another addition to Zidane's injury woes, as Gareth Bale had to leave the pitch before the hour mark and yielded his spot to Marco Asensio. Just when it looked like the home side were edging close to a goal, they shot themselves in the foot. After an

Asensio foul on substitute Joel Campbell, Joao Pereira punched Mateo Kovacic in the stomach right in front of the linesman and the referee did not hesitate to brandish a straight red card.

Zidane then looked to kill the game off and brought on Benzema for Isco, while also trying to shore up the defence with the dinged up Marcelo making way for former Benfica man Fabio Coentrao, who drew whistles any time he touched the ball.

To their credit, Sporting remained just as much of a threat with 10 men as they were with 11. Gelson Martins, in particular, was bright playing down the right wing and gave the Real defence all sorts of headaches.

The hosts would be richly rewarded for their endeavour in the final quarter hour as a foolish play from Coentrao earned Sporting a penalty. As Campbell collected a ball on the edge of the area and turned to his left, the ball popped up and struck Coentrao on the right arm. Real's Portuguese right-back inexplicably had his arm already raised when the ball struck it and Sporting were more than happy to take advantage of the error, as Adrien Silva powered in the spot kick to make it 1-1.

The Sporting goal shook Real from their doldrums, and finally there were signs of life from Zidane's squad in the half. Lucas Vazquez missed from a narrow angle, but Benzema was spot on with a header that he spun in past Rui Patricio after a fine cross from Ramos.

Just like in the first contest between the two teams, Real struck late to break Sporting's heart. The Benzema goal deflated the home fans in Lisbon, as Los Blancos quietly closed things out to take home all three points and set up a final matchday showdown with Borussia Dortmund in two weeks.

Match Sheet:

1.- Sporting Club Portugal: Rui Patricio; Joao Pereira, Coates, Semedo, Zeegelaar; William Carvalho; Gelson Martins, Bruno César (Campbell, min. 62), Adrien Silva, Bryan Ruiz (Schelotto, min. 67); and Bas Dost (André, min. 76).

2.- Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo (Coentrao, min. 72); Modric, Kovacic; Lucas Vázquez, Isco (Benzema, min. 67), Bale (Asensio, min. 58); and Cristiano.

Goals: 0-1, min. 29: Varane; 1-1, min. 80: Adrien Silva, penalty kick; 1-2, min. 87: Benzema.

Referee: William Collum (Scotland). Yellow Cards: Marcelo (min. 39) for Real Madrid, and Bryan Ruiz (min. 57), Campbell (min. 90) and André (min. 92) for Sporting Portugal. Red cards: Joao Pereira (min. 64).

Stadium: José Alvalade in Lisbon

Attendance: 50,000

Zidane: Real Madrid's game against Dortmund is like a final

After watching compatriot Karim Benzema score late to give Real Madrid the three points in Lisbon, coach Zinedine Zidane likened Los Blancos' upcoming and final group stage fixture against Borussia Dortmund to a final.

Another Frenchman, Raphael Varane, gave Madrid the lead in the first half before Sporting Lisbon equalised through a penalty kick.

Benzema then scored a late header to secure a tight victory and keep Madrid's chances of topping their group alive, although it will all come down to how the capital club fare against the in-form German side at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

"It may be that Sporting Lisbon deserved more points than they got today, but we are now going to play a final against Dortmund and that's where our focus lies," Zidane said in his post-match press conference.

"The intensity with which Sporting played made things difficult for us, but such things can happen in Champions League football," he continued.

"We didn't lower our arms during the game, we always looked to score and we managed to do it in the end."

The French boss put his own side's reduced intensity down to a congested fixture list.

"Playing every three days, it's normal that we are missing a bit of energy on the pitch, so we have to rest now," he said.

Resting players may prove difficult however, with Marcelo and Gareth Bale both substituted with respective knocks, although Zidane refused to give too much away.

"I removed Marcelo as a precaution, Bale took a knock to his ankle and we'll know more about it tomorrow," he told reporters.

"It's premature to talk about whether Bale will be able to play in the Clasico or not, as we don't know the full extent of his injury."

Finally, the French boss admitted that the team's lengthy unbeaten win is a source of pride.

"Going more games without losing is a source of motivation for us, and we want to continue like this."

Dortmund claim CL record 8-4 win over Legia

Already-qualified Borussia Dortmund crushed Legia Warsaw 8-4 on Tuesday to set a record for the most goals scored in a Champions League match, helped by a Marco Reus hat-trick.

Rampant Dortmund netted five times in 15 first-half minutes with Shinji Kagawa grabbing two goals while Reus, back after six months out injured, completed the scoring in stoppage time.

Dortmund are top of Group F on 13 points, two points ahead of Real Madrid, who beat Sporting 2-1 away, with the two sides meeting in Spain in December to decide who takes top spot in the section.

With Reus named captain and coach Thomas Tuchel resting key players following their league win over Bayern Munich on Saturday, Dortmund took control from the start.

But it was the visitors who struck first with Aleksandar Prijovic brilliantly curling in his shot with the outside of his foot in the 11th minute.

Their lead, however, only lasted six minutes with Kagawa nodding in Oussmane Dembele's low cross at the far post as Dortmund began their goal bonanza.

The Japanese grabbed his second goal a minute later and Nuri Sahin, making only his second appearance this season, got on the score sheet after goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak punched a Reus free kick straight onto the midfielder's chest in the 20th.

Prijovic got his second of the evening in the 25th minute and could have levelled when he chipped the ball onto the crossbar a minute later.

Two goals in three minutes from Dembele and Reus wrapped up the frenzied first half proceedings.

The 27-year-old Reus picked up where he left off after the break, tapping in for his second goal in the 52nd minute with Legia's Michal Kucharczyk pulling one back yet again for the visitors.

The teams traded blows once more with Legia's Nemanja Nikolic scoring two minutes after Felix Passlack had headed in Dortmund's seventh goal. Reus ended the goalfest with his third in stoppage time.

Match Sheet:

8 - Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Rode, Ginter, Bartra (Durm, 62), Passlack; Sahin (Aubameyang, 70); Castro, Kagawa; Pulisic, Dembelé (Schürrle, 72); Reus.

4 - Legia: Ciezniak; Bereszynsky, Czerwinski, Pazdan, Rzeniczak; Kopzynski, Guilherme (Jodlowieck, 57), Kucharczik, Radovik, Odjidja-Ofoe (Nikolic, 75); Prijovic (Wieteska, 70).

Goals: 0-1 (min 11, Prijovic), 1-1 (min 17, Kagawa), 1-2 (min 18, Kagawa), 3-1 (min 21, Sahin), 3-2 (min 24, Prijovic), 4-2 (min 29, Dembelé), 5-2 (min 32, Reus), 6-2 (min 52, Reus), 6-3 (min 57, Kucharczik), 7-3 (Passlack, 81), 7-4 (min 83, Nikolic), 8-4 (min 90, Reus)

Referee: Martin Strömbergsson (Sweden). Yellow cards: Odjidja-Ofoe, Pazdan and Ginter.

Stadium: Signal Iduna Park.

Attendance: 60.000 spectators.

Nessie or Messi? Rodgers wrestles with monster question

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was left with a conundrum on Tuesday when he was asked what he felt was the more believable -- the idea of the Loch Ness Monster existing or of Lionel Messi being human.

Messi or Nessie? Ultimately, Rodgers felt this jovial enquiry from a Spanish journalist on the eve of the Champions League match against Barcelona merited the equally jovial response: "That's the worst question I've ever been asked."

He knew what sort of headline the questioner was after, though. There is nothing mythical but something very monstrous about Messi's genius, as Rodgers found out in the Nou Camp in September when the great man's hat-trick decorated Barca's 7-0 win.

When the Argentine missed Barca's 0-0 draw at home to Malaga at the weekend with illness, Rodgers may have persuaded himself he would be spared the same torment in Glasgow, but it appears Messi will be ready for Wednesday's Celtic Park rematch.

"If he plays then he's arguably the world's best player," Rodgers conceded. "He's shown when he does play they are a different team."

After the Loch Ness Monster poser, the Celtic boss received an even thornier question: who should win the Ballon d'Or as the world's best player -- Messi or Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ever the diplomat, he played a dead bat and, instead, threw in the name of the Barca striker whose career he once oversaw when he was Liverpool's manager.

"It's down to who you prefer, Messi or Ronaldo -- but I think (Luis) Suarez comes into that bracket as well now."

Celtic, who always seem to become a different team when fuelled by the fevered atmosphere of their Parkhead home, are warmed by the memory of their famous 2-1 triumph over Messi and Barca there in 2012.

This time, they simply must win to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages as they lie bottom of Group C, having eked out draws against Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach.

"We showed them too much respect and the scoreline was bitterly disappointing at the time," Rodgers said, reflecting on the 7-0 humiliation.

"There were many aspects we learnt from, like being brave, and the players have shown they have learnt from that.

"It was a tough game against a top-class, world-class team but I'd hope it will be a different performance from ourselves."

Celtic, with two points from four games, must overcome Barcelona and hope Manchester City fail to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach to stay in contention to reach the knockout stages.

Already-qualified Borussia Dortmund crushed Legia Warsaw 8-4 on Tuesday to set a record for the most goals scored in a Champions League match, helped by a Marco Reus hat-trick.

Rampant Dortmund netted five times in 15 first-half minutes with Shinji Kagawa grabbing two goals while Reus, back after six months out injured, completed the scoring in stoppage time.

Dortmund are top of Group F on 13 points, two points ahead of Real Madrid, who beat Sporting 2-1 away, with the two sides meeting in Spain in December to decide who takes top spot in the section.

With Reus named captain and coach Thomas Tuchel resting key players following their league win over Bayern Munich on Saturday, Dortmund took control from the start.

But it was the visitors who struck first with Aleksandar Prijovic brilliantly curling in his shot with the outside of his foot in the 11th minute.

Their lead, however, only lasted six minutes with Kagawa nodding in Oussmane Dembele's low cross at the far post as Dortmund began their goal bonanza.

The Japanese grabbed his second goal a minute later and Nuri Sahin, making only his second appearance this season, got on the score sheet after goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak punched a Reus free kick straight onto the midfielder's chest in the 20th.

Prijovic got his second of the evening in the 25th minute and could have levelled when he chipped the ball onto the crossbar a minute later.

Two goals in three minutes from Dembele and Reus wrapped up the frenzied first half proceedings.

The 27-year-old Reus picked up where he left off after the break, tapping in for his second goal in the 52nd minute with Legia's Michal Kucharczyk pulling one back yet again for the visitors.

The teams traded blows once more with Legia's Nemanja Nikolic scoring two minutes after Felix Passlack had headed in Dortmund's seventh goal. Reus ended the goalfest with his third in stoppage time.

Match Sheet:

8 - Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Rode, Ginter, Bartra (Durm, 62), Passlack; Sahin (Aubameyang, 70); Castro, Kagawa; Pulisic, Dembelé (Schürrle, 72); Reus.

4 - Legia: Ciezniak; Bereszynsky, Czerwinski, Pazdan, Rzeniczak; Kopzynski, Guilherme (Jodlowieck, 57), Kucharczik, Radovik, Odjidja-Ofoe (Nikolic, 75); Prijovic (Wieteska, 70).

Goals: 0-1 (min 11, Prijovic), 1-1 (min 17, Kagawa), 1-2 (min 18, Kagawa), 3-1 (min 21, Sahin), 3-2 (min 24, Prijovic), 4-2 (min 29, Dembelé), 5-2 (min 32, Reus), 6-2 (min 52, Reus), 6-3 (min 57, Kucharczik), 7-3 (Passlack, 81), 7-4 (min 83, Nikolic), 8-4 (min 90, Reus)

Referee: Martin Strömbergsson (Sweden). Yellow cards: Odjidja-Ofoe, Pazdan and Ginter.

Stadium: Signal Iduna Park.

Attendance: 60.000 spectators.

Three defeats in four LaLiga games may have cast Atletico Madrid adrift from their domestic title race, but Diego Godin has assured that there's no sense of hysteria running through the camp.

Problems arising from defeats to Sevilla and Real Sociedad were compounded by a 3-0 derby thumping by Real Madrid, but Wednesday night represents a good chance to reinvigorate their season with PSV Eindhoven visiting for a Champions League group game.

"Atleti are very balanced so as to be not too high or too low in big moments, and while it's true that we've lost our last two games, we're focussed on PSV," the Uruguayan spoke in his pre-match press conference.

"We are self-critical and inside the squad is calm and tranquil. There's a great team here, all the same, and tomorrow we'll try and win.

"Beating PSV is fundamental, the Champions League is a big goal for us, as is LaLiga and the Copa del Rey, but Europe is special and tomorrow we can halt the doubts that came from outside, not inside, the camp."

When placing the reasons behind Atleti's drop in form over recent weeks, Godin was clear that even seemingly insignificant errors must be attended to, if they're consequential.

"The small details have lost us games and points, we have to fix that," he continued. "They are not minor if they make us lose. There are always things to improve."

 
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