MADRID (REUTERS) – Two headed goals from Karim Benzema helped Real Madrid reach the Champions League knockout stages with a convincing 2-0 home win on Wednesday (Dec 9) over Borussia Moenchengladbach, who also progressed to the last 16.
Benzema ghosted into the area unmarked to head home a floated cross from Lucas Vazquez in the ninth minute and rose again to score in the 32nd, this time powering a cross from Rodrygo through the hands of Swiss keeper Yann Sommer.
The German side were out-classed by the Spaniards but sneaked through from the group as Inter Milan drew 0-0 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in the other game in Group B.
Zinedine Zidane’s side finished top with 10 points while Gladbach came second with eight, pipping third-placed Shakhtar due to their better head-to-head record, while Inter came fourth with six.
Real’s shock defeat to Shakhtar last week threatened their record of qualifying from their group for the last 23 years and piled renewed pressure on Zidane, who has won the trophy three times as coach but has had a difficult season in La Liga and in Europe.
But as so often in the competition that forms such a large part of their identity, Madrid stood tall when it mattered most.
“This was a great game for us and the way we want to go,” said Benzema.
“We always try to play like this, we prepare well for every game but sometimes we lack a bit of luck when it comes to scoring. We put in an excellent performance today that will give us a lot of confidence.
“We all come out stronger from this match, Zidane and the players. This is how we need to play, if we could play like this every game we’d be unstoppable.”
The visitors wasted a glorious chance to cancel out Benzema’s opener when French winger Alassane Plea raced clear towards goal but bungled his attempted dink over Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, sending the ball wide.
Gladbach had scored 16 goals in their previous five matches but were mostly blunt in attack and barely troubled Courtois, with Plea also missing the target in the second half.
Madrid, meanwhile, were hungry for more goals and should have stretched their lead.
Luka Modric had a strike ruled out for offside late in the first half while Benzema saw a third header saved by Sommer and then smashed a shot off the underside of the bar, while Vazquez later struck the post.
Once the final whistle went, Gladbach’s players huddled around a smartphone to watch the final minutes of Inter’s game against Shakhtar, erupting with joy when that match also finished to send them through by the skin of their teeth.
“We’re over the moon. These are incredible emotions that can’t be described,” said Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer.
“I watched the Inter game after I got subbed off, but watching it as a whole team was a wonderful moment. Moments like that live long in the memory.”