Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Rabi' ath-thani 24, 1443 H
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Benzema volley pegs back Chelsea

MADRID: Karim Benzema came to Real Madrid’s rescue again on Tuesday, his acrobatic volley earning them a 1-1 draw against an impressive Chelsea side in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal.

Christian Pulisic grabbed Chelsea a deserved away goal in a soaking wet contest at Valdebebas but they might regret not pulling away, with the struggling Timo Werner again missing a golden chance.

It means Madrid will be satisfied too, after recovering from a chastening opening half an hour before Benzema’s brilliance left the tie in the balance.

Eden Hazard was given 24 minutes off the bench against his former club but despite some twinkling touches, he was unable to add a late twist. “It’s always good to play against friends,” Hazard told BT Sport afterwards.

By the time the Belgian entered the contest, it was drifting, the early adrenaline lost, with both teams seemingly content to defer to the return leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.

Benzema’s goal was his 71st in the Champions League, making him the joint-fourth top scorer in the competition’s history with Raul, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.

When Real Madrid were suffering, and in the absence of the injured Sergio Ramos, Benzema was the one dragging his team back into this match, at times through sheer force of will.

With Werner clearly short of confidence, the Frenchman’s precision at the other end could yet prove the difference.

“We should have won the first half,” said Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel. “We should have scored at least one more.”

“The result is fair,” said Zinedine Zidane. “Our first half wasn’t the best, their pressure caused us difficulties but we adapted and in the second half we were better.”

These two teams were both among the Super League’s ‘Dirty Dozen’, with Madrid president Florentino Perez, the face and voice of the breakaway project, watching on at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.

Despite stirring scenes of protests outside Premier League stadiums last weekend, Real Madrid’s — admittedly remote — training ground was untouched by any sign of discontent with the club.

And there was no Real Madrid revolt against Uefa either, with the Champions League anthem ringing out as normal and the stadium announcer loyally declaring: “The Uefa Champions League brings together the best teams in Europe.”

Chelsea were electric in the first half an hour, their passing slicker and their movement quicker than Madrid, who were unable to keep up.


Werner should have scored when Mason Mount’s deflected, looping shot was headed across goal by Pulisic but he missed from six yards, his volley blocked by the right leg of Thibaut Courtois.

But Chelsea’s dominance was such that another chance never felt far away, in the 14th minute Pulisic taking advantage.

Antonio Rudiger was given time to float a delightful ball over the top for the darting American, whose first touch took him left but he recovered his poise, nipping past Courtois and firing between Marcelo and Raphael Varane on the line. — AFP

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