Real’s Benzema volley pegs back Chelsea to leave Champions League semis in balance - GulfToday

Real’s Benzema volley pegs back Chelsea to leave Champions League semis in balance

Champions League

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (centre) vies for the ball with Chelsea’s players during their Champions League semi-final match. Agence France-Presse

Karim Benzema came to Real Madrid’s rescue again on Tuesday, his acrobatic volley earning them a 1-1 draw against an impressive Chelsea side in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.

Christian Pulisic grabbed Chelsea a deserved away goal in a soaking wet contest at Valdebebas but they might regret not pulling away, with the struggling Timo Werner again missing a golden chance. It means Madrid will be satisfied too, after recovering from a chastening opening half an hour before Benzema’s brilliance left the tie in the balance.

Eden Hazard was given 24 minutes off the bench against his former club but despite some twinkling touches, he was unable to add a late twist.

By the time the Belgian entered the contest, it was drifting, the early adrenaline lost, with both teams seemingly content to defer to the return leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.

Benzema’s goal was his 71st in the Champions League, making him the joint-fourth top scorer in the competition’s history with Raul, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.

When Real Madrid were suffering, and in the absence of the injured Sergio Ramos, Benzema was the one dragging his team back into this match, at times through sheer force of will.

With Werner clearly short of confidence, the Frenchman’s precision at the other end could yet prove the difference.

These two teams were both among the Super League’s ‘Dirty Dozen’, with Madrid president Florentino Perez, the face and voice of the breakaway project, watching on at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.

Despite stirring scenes of protests outside Premier League stadiums last weekend, Real Madrid’s - admittedly remote - training ground was untouched by any sign of discontent with the club.

Chelsea were electric in the first half an hour, their passing slicker and their movement quicker than Madrid, who were unable to keep up.

Werner should have scored when Mason Mount’s deflected, looping shot was headed across goal by Pulisic but he missed from six yards, his volley blocked by the right leg of Thibaut Courtois. But Chelsea’s dominance was such that another chance never felt far away, in the 14th minute Pulisic taking advantage. Antonio Rudiger was given time to float a delightful ball over the top for the darting American, whose first touch took him left but he recovered his poise, nipping past Courtois and firing between Marcelo and Raphael Varane on the line.

Keller refuses to resign: German soccer federation president Fritz Keller says he will not step down from his role after comparing one of his vice presidents to infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler.

Keller said Tuesday he made a “serious mistake” after making the remark about Rainer Koch at a federation meeting on Friday, but he stopped short of apologizing again.

“I assumed that the apology I made to him in writing and on the telephone would be accepted immediately. This assumption was wrong, based on his written answer to me yesterday,” Keller said in a statement on the federation’s website.

Despite widespread criticism from others across German sport, including from within the federation itself, Keller told news agency dpa, “I rule out resigning.”

Koch, who has yet to accept Keller’s apology, also works as a judge at the higher regional court in Munich.

Barnes ruled out of Euros: Leicester will be without winger Harvey Barnes for the rest of the season after the England international underwent a second knee operation that rules him out of contention for this year’s European Championship.

Barnes had a setback in his recovery from an injury he sustained against Arsenal on Feb. 28 and requires a “minor operation just to clear up some of the damage in his knee,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said Wednesday.

“The plan is really to get him through this second little operation and then he’ll be back for pre-season and fit and ready for next season,” Rodgers said.

Barnes made his debut for England in a win over Wales in a friendly match in October and looked to have a decent chance of making Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2020, which starts in June.

He has been one of Leicester’s best players this season, scoring 13 goals in all competitions.

Leicester, which visits Southampton on Friday, is in third place in the Premier League and on course to qualify for the Champions League for the just the second time.


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