Karim Benzema has been praised for his coolness under pressure as the Frenchman’s Panenka penalty kept Real Madrid in their Champions League tie against Manchester City.
The Frenchman was the star of the quarter-finals helping Real Madrid see off defending champions Chelsea in an excellent tie, netting a hat-trick in the first leg and the match winner in the second, after Los Blancos had given up their 3-1 aggregate lead. And he gave another English team nightmares on Tuesday night.
Although Man City still ran out 4-3 winners on the night, Benzema ensured that Real Madrid were still in the tie with a brace at the Etihad in what can only be described as a quintessential performance from the striker this season.
Both of Benzema’s goals on the night came with Real Madrid two goals down, keeping Man City on edge, with the first an excellent first-time finish in the first half. It came from a Man City mistake as Riyad Mahrez lost the ball and Ferland Mendy put an excellent cross into the box, but there was still a lot for Benzema to do.
The Frenchman ghosted in the area between two Man City defenders and deliciously placed a volley past Ederson, giving the away side hope in the tie. And when that hope looked as though it had been extinguished with Man City going 4-2 up, Benzema stepped up again.
This time the goal came from the penalty spot as Aymeric Laporte was penalised for as clear a handball as you’ll see this season, even with the slight deflection from his head on the way. With his arm raised level with his shoulders, the referee had little choice put to point to the spot.
But the penalty still had to be scored. Benzema stepped up to take it having missed two spot-kicks in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Osasuna last week, but the Frenchman showed no signs of that playing on his mind, because why would it? Calm and collected, Benzema beat Ederson for the second time on the night with a ridiculous Panenka, placed just below the crossbar mimicking Zinedine Zidane’s effort for France in the 2006 World Cup final (also in a losing effort).
The brace took Benzema’s tally for the season to 41 goals in 41 games across all competitions, becoming just the second player in top-flight European football to hit the 40+ mark after Robert Lewandowski.
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Benzema has also now scored seven goals in the Champions League semi-finals, moving level with Lewandowski and one clear of Lionel Messi, with only Cristiano Ronaldo (13) netting more than the Frenchman. And, more importantly, has overtaken Lewandowski as the Champions League’s outright top scorer this season. Another wonderful night for the “ice cold” Frenchman, according to Rio Ferdinand.
“How dare he,” Ferdinand said of Benzema’s penalty.
“How long it takes between that incident there and actually the ball being on the spot and him taking it, it’s a long time to think. The more time you’ve got to think, the more nerves… Ice cold.
“Like I said before he’s won four Champions Leagues, this is a minor to him.”
“Mentally you have to be rock solid,” Steve McManaman added.
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Benzema also earned praise from former England striker Alan Shearer, who praised the Frenchman for his nerve in attempting a Panenka at such a crucial moment in the tie.
“Oh my word. We have seen absolutely everything in this game. Incredible piece of skill and bravery. To have the nerve and dink it straight down the middle takes some doing that does. What a game we’ve had here this evening!
“After missing three penalties this month… That’s all I can do is chuckle and think ‘I cannot believe Karim Benzema has just done that’.
“The sheer arrogance of it but also the belief and the ability to do that. He seems to be getting better and better. The sheer audacity! It was incredible.”