Benzema pushes the limit a little further

Benzema tries a shot against Chelsea this Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals in Valdebebas.

There was a moment in which everything pointed to the final collapse, as if after much groping, from so much mentioning it, there it was, in effect: the limit. And Real Madrid, exhausted, squeezed and pushed over and over again by the stubborn energy of Chelsea revived by Tuchel, were to drop their arms. Courtois had already made his photo stop: he responded very quickly with his feet to a point-blank right from Werner, after a brilliant against Mount. That ball had been lost by Casemiro in strange circumstances: in the center, his world, while he tried a heel with his left foot to a place where no friends appeared.

The real instant of alarm came later. In another against, this time from Pulisic, who slid smoothly, like on skates, crossing the field unreachable by Nacho, before Varane’s doubts, and with Militão behind. In that void, Courtois made a desperate decision: he left the goal to go look for him while the rest doubted. Pulisic dodged and overtook Chelsea.

Immediately the storm began to unload on Alfredo di Stéfano and Zidane took out the towel, while his team ran after the ball, always a few steps late, with desperate features. Casemiro missed a ball and hopped on the spot with clenched fists. If they hadn’t hit the limit, it seemed that way.

However, Zidane, the first to use the term, had also warned several times after that when they got there, they were going to elevate it. It was when Benzema appeared, after a slip by Kanté near his area, that he rescued aromas of those errors that the Frenchman so punished on other European nights. That of Ulreich, Bayern goalkeeper in the 2018 semifinal second leg at the Bernabéu. Or that of Karius, Liverpool’s goalkeeper in the final in Kiev. Benzema opened space and ended up finishing from outside the area with his left foot to Mendy’s left square. Out of the stick. The launch was the spark that ignited the Real footballers installed in the stands, especially Sergio Ramos: “Come on, people, a little more, come on!” He shouted. “Come on, people, trust, come on, a little bit, we’re fine, hit it!” There was a glimpse of something else behind that limit.

They finished digging him up with a slate corner that Kroos took, cut Modric and hung Marcelo at the back of the area. There waited Casemiro, who nodded towards Militão. The Brazilian managed to extend where Benzema expected: control, Chilean half and goal. It was the Frenchman’s 71st in the European Cup, as many as Raúl, the fourth highest scorer in the history of the competition, behind Cristiano, Messi and Lewandowski.

It came in a play like the one that rescued Madrid in extremis in Mönchengladbach, a ball caught in the air by Casemiro that Benzema clinched. A last minute plan deployed when barely half an hour had been played. In the limit. “Come on, come on!” Ramos ventured, shot out of his seat to collide with his injured court: Mendy, Lucas Vázquez. He was even guessed capable of running down the stairs to the field, from where Benzema was pointing to the short bleachers at Di Stéfano.

Like so many other times, on Benzema’s shoulders he revived the faith of a team that seemed consumed, which to a large extent is, but often finds something more. Without hardly leaning on the bench. Hazard, immersed in another process of return, left after an hour, while Tuchel introduced three soft drinks: Ziyech, Havertz and James. Hazard was not noticed, but neither did Chelsea beat Madrid.

In the last moments Zidane withdrew Benzema. He went to look for him at the band, put his arm around him and whispered smilingly. They had endured another 90 minutes, one more stage after the limit.

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