MADRID, March 16 — Karim Benzema struck for Real Madrid to clinch a 1-0 win over Liverpool and qualification for the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday 6-2 on aggregate.
After the wild last 16 first leg clash at Anfield in February left Madrid sitting pretty with a three-goal advantage, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said his side only had a 1 per cent chance of turning the tie around.
They stemmed the bleeding at the Santiago Bernabeu but never looked like mounting a stirring comeback of the type they managed against Barcelona in 2019, or AC Milan in the 2005 final.
Madrid have now knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League in three consecutive seasons, including beating them in last year’s final.
“It was a complicated game but from the start we showed we wanted to go through, and we are in the quarter-finals,” Benzema told Movistar.
“Suffering is part of today’s football. Everyone wants more, but sometimes you have to suffer in a game — the most important thing is to win and go through.”
The 14-time record winners showed the nous to keep Liverpool at arm’s length, with defenders Eder Militao and Antonio Rudiger determined to shut out the visitors, along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Reigning champions Madrid could have significantly stretched their lead, save for a series of superb stops by Liverpool stopper Alisson Becker and some unusually profligate finishing.
In the first leg, Madrid were lethal, with Vinicius Junior and Benzema netting twice each — neither had their shooting boots on in the Spanish capital.
Eventually they combined for Madrid’s winner after 78 minutes, with Vinicius slipping as he tried to shoot, but managing to hook the ball into Benzema’s path for a simple tap-in.
Madrid’s only worry was seeing their captain limp off after his goal amid an injury-hit season — Benzema said it was only a blow on the shin.
Liverpool, wildly inconsistent in this campaign, took heart from their 7-0 thrashing of Manchester United in the Premier League, but could not produce the same magic under the Bernabeu lights.
Klopp started with Diogo Jota alongside his usual attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, deploying as much firepower as he could to try and mount a comeback.
The first chance of the game fell to Nunez but Courtois thwarted the Uruguayan, who was fed by Salah.
At the other end Madrid sliced open Liverpool but Toni Kroos could not find Benzema, back after missing the win over Espanyol in La Liga on Saturday with an ankle problem.
Vinicius did produce a superb pass to feed the French striker, but Benzema miscontrolled and could not get a shot away.
The hosts began to dominate, running rings around James Milner and Fabinho in midfield, and Alisson made a stunning save to deny Vinicius from point-blank range.
Eduardo Camavinga, selected over Aurelien Tchouameni in defensive midfield by Ancelotti, crashed a long-range effort against the crossbar, with Alisson getting his fingertips to it.
The Brazilian goalkeeper denied Vinicius at his near post after he got in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold — not for the first time — and watched a Luka Modric drive fly narrowly over.
Liverpool showed signs of life near the end of the first half, with Nunez forcing Courtois into a full length stop with a curling effort.
However Madrid were on top at the start of the second half and Alisson foiled Fede Valverde as he ran through on goal, before fielding a tame Benzema follow-up.
Camavinga impressed in midfield and helped create Benzema’s goal, with a drive forward pass in the build-up.
“I told him a few small details, like how I know that the two Liverpool centre-backs play open, there’s space in the middle, and that’s how we scored the goal,” added Benzema.
“He’s a young player but he’s got a lot of talent and we are happy with him.”
The striker has now scored seven times in the Champions League against Liverpool, more than any other player.
Benzema is key to Madrid’s bid to lift the trophy for a sixth time in 10 seasons, if he can stay fit.
Madrid played classic Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone at the end of the game, at once a classy touch but also showing Liverpool never made them truly uncomfortable. — AFP