It was an inspired piece of skill by Karin Benzema that shattered Atletico Madrid’s hopes of a comeback in the semifinals of the Champions League.
The French striker’s spectacular move to evade three Atletico defenders led to the crucial away goal that helped put Real Madrid in the final against Juventus on June 3 in Cardiff.
The goal by Francisco “Isco” Alarcon just before halftime halted Atletico’s onslaught and allowed Madrid to advance to its third final in four seasons with a 4-2 aggregate score following a 2-1 loss on Wednesday.
“Benzema’s move changed the game,” Madrid midfielder Casemiro said.
With Atletico winning 2-0 and close to overturning the 3-0 loss from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Benzema showed why he remains one of the best strikers in the world.
He picked up the ball near the left corner and quickly found himself surrounded by Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic and Diego Godin, three of Atletico’s best defenders.
Benzema apparently wanted to go back toward the midfield but suddenly changed direction and took the ball toward the end line, where he stopped and used a couple of quick touches to fool the defenders and get past them into the open space.
“After the game, I asked Benzema how he got out of there, and he said he didn’t know either,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “But it gave us a goal.”
Benzema sped into the area after clearing the defenders and sent a backward pass to Toni Kroos, whose shot was initially saved by goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Isco was nearby and picked up the rebound to easily score from close range.
“Karim is an incredibly great player and today he helped us with his magic,” Madrid left back Marcelo said.
Isco’s goal at the Vicente Calderon Stadium left Atletico in need of scoring three more goals to advance to the final and avoid another Champions League elimination against the city rival. Madrid defeated Atletico in the final last year and in 2014, and also eliminated the crosstown opponent in the quarterfinals in 2015.
“A moment of genius from Benzema ended our dream,” Atletico captain Gabi Fernandez said.
The goal allowed Madrid to match Bayern Munich’s record of 61 consecutive games scoring at least one goal in all competitions, a feat the German club achieved from 2013-14. Madrid has scored 167 goals since a 0-0 draw at Manchester City in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals last year.
Madrid, an 11-time European champion, will try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the competition’s new format was created in 1992. It will be the first club to have a chance to defend its title since Manchester United made consecutive finals in 2008-09.
Atletico never won the Champions League. It was also runner-up in 1974, losing to Bayern Munich in the final.