Real Madrid scrape through to third Champions League final

Karim Benzema: helped Madrid hold dominant Bayern Munich and qualify for third UEFA Champions League final

Karim Benzema showed he still has fire power as his brace helped Real Madrid to level scores with Bayern Munich in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final and scrape qualification for the final in Kiev on 26 May.

At the final whistle, it was all square at Santiago Bernabéu , with both teams tied 2-2. But Madrid escaped with the 2-1 advantage recorded in Munich last week, making aggregate score 4-3.

Joshua Kimmich had opened scoring for the visitors in the third minute. But Benzema neutralised the goal in the 11 minute with a header. And he shot Madrid ahead one minute after the second half started after aa dreadful error by Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich .

Former  Madrid player James Rodriguez was on song for Bayern in the 63rd minute, in the nervy match, in which Bayern dominated possession 61-39.  Bayern also had more shots on target 8-3, with Madrid keeper Keylor Navas, doing the yeoman’s job of saving many goal moves.

The victory over Bayern Munich will be Madrid’s third consecutive final. They  become the first club in history to reach three straight European Cup finals for the second time.

They will know their opponent tomorrow after the match in Rome between Liverpool and Roma. Liverpool led the first leg 5-2.

Benzema’s two goals on Tuesday night  were another feather in the cap for coach Zinedine Zidane, who had decided to start the French striker, despite only one goal in his previous 12 games.

It was another brave call from Real’s coach, who now stands on the brink of history himself, with Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley the only other managers to have ever won Europe’s premier competition three times.

Zidane also sprung a surprise by dropping Casemiro to the bench and bringing the more mobile Mateo Kovacic into midfield while Lucas Vazquez played in the unfamiliar role of right back.

It meant no place again in the starting line-up for Gareth Bale, who was named as a substitute for the fifth time in six knock-out matches. He replaced Benzema in the second half.

Bayern came without a host of star players, with Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben, Jerome Boateng, Kingsley Coman and Manuel Neuer all injured. Martinez was fit enough to make the bench.

Kimmich had given Bayern the lead after 28 minutes at the Allianz Arena and here he did it in three, slamming home after Sergio Ramos poked Corentin Tolisso’s cross straight to his feet.

Real were rattled, their fans tetchy, and if Bayern had held on for longer the pressure might have told. Instead, the home side were level by the 11th minute, Benzema peeling free of David Alaba at the back post and heading in.

Marcelo and Toni Kroos both weaved their way into Bayern’s six-yard box, but failed to pick a final pass, while at the other end, Vazquez was enduring a torrid time at right back.

After another ball was threaded inside the winger’s left shoulder, Robert Lewandowski unleashed and James should have scored but was unable to adjust his body to the follow-up.

A breathless opening 45 minutes ended with Bayern wanting a penalty as the ball struck Marcelo on the arm but referee Cuneyt Cakir waved away the appeals.

Real were certainly the more relieved to hear the half-time whistle but they were given a gift shortly after the restart.

Tolisso’s backpass was misjudged and underhit but Ulreich still had the chance to clear. Instead, the keeper got his feet in a tangle and ended up in a heap on the floor, presenting Benzema with an open net.

The game looked finished but Bayern came again and after 10 minutes of desperate Real defending, it was no surprise when they scored. James chased down his own rebound before beating Keylor Navas at the near post. The on-loan Colombian chose not to celebrate against his parent club.

Bayern had 27 minutes to find a third and there were a handful of near misses. Thomas Muller was denied by Navas and Mats Hummels headed agonisingly wide in injury time, but Real held on for their fourth final in five years. – AFP.

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