MADRID: Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. scored in extra time as Real Madrid fought back to beat local rivals Atletico Madrid 3-1 on Thursday and reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
The Brazilian winger’s goal was a particularly sweet one for him after a crude effigy with his shirt on was hung from a bridge near Real’s training ground before the game.
The spiky, gripping derby clash turned against Diego Simeone’s side in the additional period when defender Stefan Savic was sent off.
Atletico took the lead through Alvaro Morata after 19 minutes but Rodrygo’s sensational slalom run past three defenders and slick finish pulled Madrid level with 11 minutes remaining.
After Savic’s 99th minute red card, Benzema tucked home from Marco Asensio’s pass and Vinicius netted at the death to send Los Blancos through to the final four for the first time since 2019.
“Today we had a very difficult game but with the character and the players that we have, we were able to turn it around,” Benzema told Teledeporte. “Suffering is not good — we have to score the goals earlier.”
The build-up to the derby was tainted by the Vinicius effigy being strung up overnight, which the club described as “a disgusting act of racism, xenophobia and hatred.”
“[Vinicius] really wanted to play and he had a very good game,” Real coach Carlo Ancelotti told a news conference. “I think the goal was his reward for his great work. What happened is very regrettable.”
On a freezing night at a sold-out Santiago Bernabeu hosting its first game for 77 days due to the World Cup break, Real started slowly and Atletico had many dangerous counter-attacks.
Real fans had planned to sing Vinicius’ name in support in the 20th minute, matching his shirt number, but were stunned into silence by Morata’s goal moments before.
Atletico captain Koke delivered a brilliant through ball to full-back Nahuel Molina who ghosted in behind Real’s defence and set up Morata, a former Real academy player, to tap the ball into an empty net.
It was not only until Dani Ceballos came off the bench to replace the injured Ferland Mendy late in the first half that Real started to play better.
The 26-year-old midfielder injected a new dynamic into the team who were far more aggressive after the break.
Substitute Rodrygo equalised in the 79th with a delightful goal, dribbling past three defenders before finishing well.
With Real Madrid in full control, Atletico played most of extra time with 10 men after Savic was shown his second yellow card for chopping down Eduardo Camavinga in the 99th minute.
Five minutes later, Real substitute Marco Asensio sent a low cross into the box and Vinicius’ deflected shot reached Benzema who unleashed an unstoppable strike into the net.
Vinicius secured Real’s win in the dying seconds with a brilliant individual goal, running half the length of the pitch before scoring with a low shot.
“We got behind very early and after Mendy’s injury the whole team had to be rebuilt. But we woke up and played really well after the break,” Ceballos told TVE. “They played better in the first half, but the coach corrected things in the second; we took control of the ball and found the goal. Then, after the red card, everything was easier.”
Despite their improving performances, the rest of Atletico’s season is looking barren, given they were eliminated from European football and are 13 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, having played a game more.
“We are out of Europe and now the cup, the team has the second half of the season ahead of them to try and qualify for the Champions League, that’s the objective the club needs,” said Simeone, who cast some doubt on his future.
The Argentine coach has been at the club since 2011 and has a contract until 2024. “After that, calmly, we will look at what is convenient for everyone,” he continued. “Being at Atletico gives me enormous joy, I will give 1000 percent until the day that I leave.”
Earlier Athletic Bilbao won 3-1 at Valencia to join record 31-time winners Barcelona and Osasuna in Monday’s semi-final draw.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2023
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