Benzema snuffs out Sporting to seal Madrid's progress
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Adrien Silva briefly put the issue back in doubt but Karim Benzema struck even later to secure Real Madrid a 2-1 win at Sporting CP and a place in the round of 16 yet again.
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Defending champions Real Madrid booked a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for a 20th consecutive season with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Group F rivals Sporting CP, who duly exit the competition.
In an end-to-end first period, Raphaël Varane took advantage of some slack defending to open the scoring just before the half-hour and when João Pereira was dismissed with 26 minutes to go, it appeared to be game over.
However, Sporting never gave up and Adrien Silva converted from the penalty spot to give the hosts hope ten minutes from the end. Ultimately, Madrid's numerical advantage paid dividends though, and Karim Benzema's 87th-minute header proved enough to clinch the three points.
Key player: Luka Modrić (Madrid)
There can be few players in world football with a calmer presence of mind than Modrić. The Croatian international ran the midfield for large parts of this match, displaying an exceptional range of passing and bite in the tackle to break up several Sporting counter-thrusts.
Madrid less than watertight
Victory will mask the fact this is the fifth matchday running in which Madrid have conceded. Last season they were breached in just one group fixture and the contrast this campaign has been stark. All night Marcelo struggled with the lively Gelson Martins and, despite Zinédine Zidane's 4-4-1-1 offering more security to the back line, Sporting had their chances. On another evening it might have been different and going into the knockout phase it is something the coach must look to arrest.
Sporting toil in vain
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus said his team had been drawn against two of the world's best sides in Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, but rather than bemoan the fact, the tactician inspired his troops to rise to the challenge in Group F. Twice now against the UEFA Champions League holders Madrid, the Leões have stood up to their opponents and arguably deserved better than two defeats. They should take heart ahead of the matchday six meeting with Legia Warszawa, an encounter that could rubber-stamp third-placed Sporting's UEFA Europa League berth.
Paul Bryan, Sporting (@UEFAcomPaulB)
In a game billed as Cristiano Ronaldo's homecoming, the limelight was stolen by others as Sporting exited this season's UEFA Champions League with heads held high. Tricky winger Gelson Martins showed flashes of his excellence while midfielder Adrien Silva underlined his importance to the home cause with a commanding performance. Madrid represent a step up in quality, however, with match winner Karim Benzema proving the point with a superlative headed clincher.
Joe Walker, Madrid (@UEFAcomJoeW)
Job done: Madrid through to the knockouts, three points in the bag and still the possibility of finishing top. Yet that does not tell the full story. At 1-0 up against ten men it should have been plain sailing; however Sporting, to their credit, made life extremely difficult for the 2016 winners. At times Madrid rode their luck and struggled to deal with Gelson Martins, but all that matters now is the result. Still, moving forward, they face an anxious wait to learn the extent of Gareth Bale's injury.