On a night when most would have been expecting something more akin to a testimonial styled match, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao put on an intense but tidy demonstration of how to play counter attacking football.
Indeed, it was the visiting Basques who were rewarded early in the 2nd half when Sancet – a problem for Madrid all night – controlled a lovely pass from the right side in the box. His initial shot was blocked, but the midfielder made no mistake with the second, such that Courtois could only watch helplessly as it flew into the roof of his net.
Yet, tonight’s game will likely be remembered for one single thing, and that’s the fact that it was Karim Benzema’s final game for the club to which he has given so much. Across his 14 seasons in Madrid, there was literally hundreds of goals, a plethora of titles both nationally – La Liga – and continentally – the UEFA Champions League – as well as Ballon d’Or trophy in 2022.
Fittingly, the 35-year-old was given the task of equalizing for Madrid from the penalty spot after, a foul on Militao in the Bilbao’s area. As expected he converted and the entire stadium rose to its feet to pay homage to their star. Even some Bilbao players could be seen applauding the Frenchman. With that, it’s also worth mentioning that the night marked the end of Marco Asensio’s time with the club as well. The young Spanish international will be playing with PSG in France’s Ligue 1 from next season, having recently signed with the Parisians.
As we look forward, to the coming campaign, the immediate question that comes to mind is how will Real Madrid replace Karim Benzema, as well as the other key positions in which they starters are beginning to show signs of age. Following the convincing beating that they received at the hands of Manchester City in the Champions League, these questions will soon become more pressing than ever as Europe’s most successful club looks to get back to winning ways. As we always watch this space. With that, we wish you a good night and thankyou for joining us!
“Real Madrid and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to bring his brilliant and unforgettable time as a player at our club to a close,” the club said in a statement.
“Karim Benzema’s career at Real Madrid has been a shining example of conduct and professionalism, and he has represented the values of our club.”
Benzema could follow his former Real team mate Cristiano Ronaldo to the Gulf country after the Portugal forward signed a 2-1/2 year contract estimated to be worth more than 200 million euros with Al Nassr in December.
In the Champions League, Real made remarkable comebacks from losing positions in the last 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals against Paris St Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City respectively with Benzema scoring in each of the second legs.
His pbivotal role earned him the Ballon d’Or crown, making him the first French player to win the trophy since Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and the fifth Frenchman overall.
He finishes his career in the Spanish capital with a record 25 trophies with the club, including five European Cups, four LaLiga titles and three Copas del Rey.
Benzema’s exit comes a day after Real announced Eden Hazard was also leaving the club after agreeing to terminate his contract a year early.
Real also confirmed the exits of attacking midfielder Marco Asensio and striker Mariano Diaz, leaving holes in the attack for club president Florentino Perez to plug in the close season.
The centre-forward had been expected to stay at Madrid for one more season until June 2024 but is opting instead to accept a new challenge.
Benzema joined Madrid from Lyon in 2009 and, after a difficult start, found a place alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as one of the club’s most successful forward lines.
He took on the mantle of Madrid’s lead goal scorer when Ronaldo left in 2018 and had a career-best season last year, scoring 27 times in LaLiga and 15 times in the Champions League as the club won both trophies. That form was recognised when Benzema was awarded the Ballon d’Or in October.
The Madrid captain has struggled with injuries this season, missing the World Cup, but still scored 18 goals in 23 LaLiga games.
His 25 trophies at the club — a record shared with Marcelo — consist of four LaLiga titles, five Champions Leagues, three Copas del Rey, four Spanish Supercopas, four UEFA Super Cups and five FIFA Club World Cups.
“He’s thought it through and his decision is part of the transition of this club, which continues and will continue next year,” Ancelotti said. “ We have time to reflect on what we have to do. We’ll have a competitive squad next year.”
Ancelotti said the club had wanted Asensio to stay but the forward decided it was time to leave. He said Asensio “preferred a change of scenery.”
Two other players have received offers to renew their contracts but have yet to decide whether they will stay — defender Nacho and attacking midfielder Dani Ceballos.
Two veteran midfielders have their contracts expiring Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is reportedly among the midfielders wanted by Madrid, whose salary bill will go down considerably following the departures of Benzema and others.
Madrid finished the season with three titles the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. But finished second in the Spanish league, 10 points behind champion Barcelona and lost in the semifinals of the Champions League.
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