Benzema guides Madrid to 1-0 win over Bayern
MADRID, Spain—Karim Benzema’s goal gave Real Madrid a 1-0 first-leg victory over title holder Bayern Munich on Wednesday, but the nine-time champions may live to regret the missed chances in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal.
Madrid endured plenty of pressure in the first leg match, but scored from a 19th-minute counter-attack. Cristiano Ronaldo found Fabio Coentrao speeding down the left flank and Benzema steered his low cross past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Ronaldo returned from a left leg injury but missed a number of scoring opportunities before eventually giving way to Gareth Bale, who had started on the bench after battling with ‘flu.
Bayern pressed for an equalizer in the closing stages, forcing Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas to deny Mario Goetze in the 84th minute while fellow substitute Thomas Mueller had no better luck with his late effort from inside the area.
But Madrid should have extended its lead ahead of Tuesday’s return leg in Germany, as the team bids to end a three-season semifinal losing streak and reach the final for the first time since winning in 2002.
“If you want to do damage, you have to go for the victory—because 1-0 is not definitive,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said as he looked ahead to a tough second leg match. “But it’s a good result to take to Munich.”
Atletico Madrid or Chelsea await in the May 24 final in Lisbon, with the pair playing to a scoreless draw in their first-leg match on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola endured his first loss at the Bernabeu as coach after seven previous visits with Barcelona, and at times the encounter took on the appearance of a “clasico” with Madrid looking to capitalize on the break while the visitors controlled play.
“Madrid thrives off the counter attack, Madrid is the best team in the world on the counter,” Guardiola said. “They get back as fast as they go forward, they’re athletes.”
Madrid’s defense did well to contain Bayern in its area and then break quickly, but the Spanish club squandered its other chances after Benzema broke the deadlock.
Ronaldo, who looked uncomfortable at times despite passing a late fitness test, followed up a sharp header at Neuer with a first-time shot from Luka Modric’s perfect pass in the 26th minute—only for his effort to fly high over the top with just the Germany ‘keeper to beat.
Madrid dug in and did well to clear many of Bayern’s best opportunities as it controlled three-quarters of possession in the first half. The German champions found space between the lines and combined some swift passing movements, with Franck Ribery picking out Arjen Robben inside the area in the 39th.
But Madrid weathered each buildup before surging forward, with Angel Di Maria gathering a loose ball at the right post only to wildly shoot over Neuer before halftime.
After the break, Neuer had to dive low to keep out Ronaldo’s angled shot after a Bayern defensive mix-up.
Ronaldo forced Neuer into another low save before giving way to Bale, who energized Madrid’s attack with his pace. The Welshman was playing for the first time since his stunning winner in Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.
“It’s been 20 days Cristiano hasn’t been 100 percent, so it was a sacrifice for him. It couldn’t have been easy for Cristiano tonight,” said Ancelotti, who remained unbeaten against Bayern with his fifth win in seven meetings. “But Cristiano and Bale will be 100 percent” for the return, the Italian coach added.
Guardiola brought on Mueller and Goetze for the final quarter and Mueller nearly equalized with a rising shot in the 81st. A chance then fell to Goetze in the Madrid area but Casillas reacted well to stop the German’s powerful volley.
“They had chances to score more goals, definitely,” said Guardiola. “We probably should have created a few more scoring chances. (But) they have a very good defense.”
Bayern had gone 29 matches without scoring coming into the 20th meeting between the storied European rivals, and will still rate its chances of reaching a third straight final with the return leg at home.
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