Benzema nets 2, Madrid wins 1st game after World Cup break


BARCELONA, Spain – Playing his first match since their World Cup hopes were dashed, Karim Benzema rescued Real Madrid with two late goals to beat 10-man Valladolid 2-0 on Friday.

Benzema picked up an injury in his first competitive match since November 2, limiting his chances at the club and ultimately ruling France out of football’s elite competition.

But the Ballon d’Or winner came in the last minute to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side the three points they needed to temporarily go top of the Spanish league table.

Madrid also relied on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to keep the scoreline at bay as they struggled to create chances in their first game since Liga was on a seven-week break for the tournament in Qatar.

Valladolid defended well and threatened to tie the game in Madrid’s favor at the break at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium when the video assistant referee spotted defender Javi Sanchez’s handball in the area.

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In the 83rd minute, Benzema sent the penalty ball into the left corner after goalkeeper Jordi Masip fell to the other side.

Valladolid’s hunt for a late equalizer was dented when striker Sergio Leon, one of Valladolid’s sharpest players, was shown a straight red card for using the wrong language to protest a penalty decision.

Benzema then scored a brace in the 89th after a pass from Eduardo Camavinga.

“Benzema played very well considering he barely played in the last three months,” Courtois said. “Maybe he lacks a bit of pace. I believe last year’s Karim would have scored more goals, but it’s good to have this double.”

Benzema made two superb saves to deny Courtois Leon and midfielder Alvaro Aguado before putting Madrid ahead. Courtois used a one-handed dive to stop Aguado’s long-range shot in the first half. He then managed to beat Leon’s header in the 68th.

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“Courtois’ saves were decisive,” said Valladolid coach Pacheta Martin, whose side moved up to 15th.

Madrid moved a point ahead of Barcelona in the standings ahead of Javi Hernandez’s side’s derby against Espanyol on Saturday.

Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence in memory of Brazil great Pele, who died on Thursday. Former Brazil and Madrid star and current Valladolid owner Ronaldo stood in the stands alongside Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. Brazilian striker Vinicius Junior closed his eyes and held his head up in midfield with the rest of the players.

Sevilla remained in the relegation zone after a 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo.

Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli overhauled his attacking scheme after playmaker Isco Alarcon, who was used as a “false nine” before the World Cup break last week, left the club by mutual consent. Instead, Sampaoli started his two big strikers, Youssef En-Nesiri and Rafa Mir.

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Celta’s Gabri Veiga met Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bou with a perfectly balanced pass after Iago Aspas Veiga had won the ball back in the 33rd minute. It was the 20-year-old Vega’s fourth goal of the season.

After Sevilla failed to create a scoring chance in the first half, Sampaoli sent on Erik Lamela for En Nesiri.

Quique Salas headed in a corner kick to equalize in the 54th minute after Celta’s keeper pushed away Lamela’s shot.

Sevilla finished with 10 men after Jose Carmona was shown a second yellow card in the 86th minute.

Argentina defender and world champion Marcos Acuña started for Sevilla.

Borja Mayoral scored twice in the second half to help Getafe beat Mallorca 2-0.

Lucas Perez’s late goal earned Cádiz a 1-1 draw at home to Almeria.

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