Benzema posts tweet indicating international retirement
France forward Karim Benzema posted a message on social networks Monday indicating that he is retiring from internationals, a day after the national team lost the World Cup final without him. After raising the Ballon d'Or award as the world's top player to crown his remarkable rise, Benzema's dream of winning the World Cup was over last month before the tournament in Qatar even started as he tore a muscle in his left thigh during training with Les Bleus. "I made the effort and the mistakes it took to be where I am today and I'm proud of it! I have written my story and ours is ending," Benzema wrote on his 35th birthday, in a post accompanied by a picture of him in a France shirt. Read more: Brilliant Benzema and His Road to Ballon d’Or Glory The Real Madrid striker was France's top scorer at the 2014 World Cup but did not play in the country's victorious 2018 World Cup campaign because he was still exiled from the national team for his alleged role in a sex-tape scandal with then-France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The fallout from that scandal led to a dramatic fall from grace for Benzema. He faced a nationwide deluge of vitriol and scathing criticism, including on the political level. It led to a long exclusion from the national team from October 2015 until his recall by Deschamps in May last year. With his relationship with Deschamps repaired, Benzema scored freely for France with 10 goals in 16 games after his return to reach 37 overall, and he formed a great partnership with Kylian Mbappe. His most impressive run of performances came in last season's Champions League as he led Madrid to the title – his fifth in Europe's top competition – with 15 goals. He has moved up to second place on Madrid's all-time scoring list with 329 goals. At last year's European Championship, Benzema looked sharp and was France's top scorer with four goals. Olivier Giroud started for France in Benzema's place at the World Cup in Qatar and finished the tournament with four goals, but he was substituted before halftime of Sunday's final with Argentina leading 2-0. France fought back for 2-2 after 90 minutes and 3-3 following extra time before Argentina won a penalty shootout to cap one of the most exciting finals in World Cup history. Read more: France's Benzema ruled out of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Madrid stun City to enter Champions League final
Young Brazilian Rodrygo's goals in the 90th minute and in stoppage time have inspired another win for the ages. The 3-1 victory over Manchester City Wednesday gave Madrid yet another comeback and set it up for a showdown with Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 in Paris. City were moments away from returning to the final before Rodrygo, the substitute forward, stunned the English team with his back-to-back goals, inspiring Madrid to victory like a bruised boxer who lands a knockout combination. Madrid, who had trailed City ever since minute 2 of their first-leg match in Manchester, were finally level. Pep Guardiola's team still had another half hour of extra time, but they never recovered. It seemed inevitable that once resuscitated there was no stopping Madrid. And fittingly it fell to Karim Benzema, the man who had carried Madrid to the final four with hat-tricks in the previous two rounds, to earn and convert the decisive penalty that clinched a 6-5 aggregate victory. "I couldn't hear what my teammates were saying to me because I couldn't believe what was happening," the 21-year-old Rodrygo said about the mayhem that erupted after his goals. "We were dead, and then what happened was what happened." Perhaps City can take solace in that Paris Saint-Germain and defending champion Chelsea were also zombified by whatever wizardry Madrid somehow conjure up at the biggest moments of the biggest games. All good teams occasionally score against the flow of the game. But most, and especially this City engineered by soccer's top stylist in Guardiola, need to dominate stretches of play to produce lots of goals. Not Madrid. Not when they play in front of their fans. The clock becomes meaningless for Madrid at home. The 13-time European Cup winners produce those magic moments when time is suddenly compressed, the crowd roars, opponents freeze, and the goals just flow in quick succession. Ask PSG how Benzema was able to score three goals in less than 20 minutes of the second leg of their round-of-16 series that Kylian Mbappé's team had once controlled to advance 3-2 overall. Ask Chelsea how it was they could have the momentum going into the final period of their quarterfinal in Spain's capital only for Rodrygo and Benzema to score late for a 5-4 aggregate win in extra time. City entered the second leg against Madrid with the advantage after coming out on top of their 4-3 shootout last week. Riyad Mahrez's goal in the 73rd minute appeared to give them the cushion they needed to avoid any last-minute scares. Jack Grealish then went oh-so-close to padding that lead. But that just set the scene for Rodrygo, who coach Carlo Ancelotti had sent on for a tired Toni Kroos, looking to spark his attack. First, he slipped to the near post to tap in a cross knocked to him by Benzema just when City suffered a momentary drop in concentration. Seconds later, with Madrid seizing the moment, came his header when the slight forward managed to open up a bit of space in a packed area to push in a cross by Dani Carvajal flicked on by Marco Asensio. Once again, faith had trumped reason at the Santiago Bernabéu. "The whole world thought the game was nearly over – it was a little detail, a good combination, the goal of Rodrygo, and from there we put in all the energy we had. You need a bit of luck," Ancelotti said. While Ancelotti embraced his son and assistant Davide Ancelotti, Guardiola was left to run a hand over the top of his head and put on his best sportsman's grin as he shook hands with the players. The Catalan coach had just witnessed his grand design to finally win a European Cup for City succumb before that gift that Madrid have of making their players believe that by donning the all-white shirt they are destined for glory. Only the golden years of Lionel Messi's Barcelona, which Guardiola helped forge, was able to somewhat dim that mystique. Also read: Madrid clinch record-extending 35th Spanish league title
Benzema defying time to reach his best at age 34
At an age when most top athletes are hoping to maintain their form, Karim Benzema is reaching the pinnacle of his career. The 34-year-old France striker is enjoying the best season of the 13 he has spent at Real Madrid and making a strong argument for being considered the top player in the world. Benzema has put in remarkable back-to-back performances in soccer’s elite club competition, scoring consecutive hat tricks in Champions League matches against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. Benzema’s three goals at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday gave Madrid a commanding 3-1 advantage in their Champions League quarterfinal with Chelsea. Last month he singlehandedly brought Madrid back against PSG with a stunning second-half treble to advance his team on a 3-2 aggregate score. Madrid hosts Getafe in the Spanish league on Saturday before Chelsea visits the Santiago Bernabéu needing a big win to keep alive its European title defense. But with Benzema playing like he is, Madrid has a great chance to add to its 34 Spanish league titles and 13 European Cups, both competitions records. Read: Another Benzema hat trick gives Madrid 3-1 edge over Chelsea Fueled by Benzema’s league-high 24 goals, 10 more than his nearest chasers, Madrid leads Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla by 12 points with eight games remaining in Spain. Beside his two exquisite headers to put Madrid up 2-0 at Chelsea, Benzema has also shown that hustle pays off. Against both PSG and Chelsea he produced goals by pressuring goalkeepers into gifting him the ball. Add to that his superb sense of timing, knowing just when he should drop into midfield to help unlock the opposing defense and cue an attack, and you have what Carlo Ancelotti calls “a complete player.” “He’s just like a fine wine,” the Madrid coach said about Benzema. “He gets better every day and feels as if he’s gaining in importance within the team every day and is becoming more of a leader. That’s making all the difference in him.” When Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid’s all-time leading scorer, left in 2018, Benzema stepped to fill the void. Even so, he appeared to only be a temporary fix until president Florentino Pérez brought in a true superstar, such as PSG forward Kylian Mbappé, to restore Madrid to greatness. Benzema, however, has blossomed into that stellar player well over a decade since joining Madrid from his hometown club of Lyon. He has scored 10 of Madrid’s last 11 goals and has 37 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season. That already surpasses his previous best of 32 goals for Madrid in the 2011-12 season. And if Mbappé does come, Benzema has shown throughout his career that he can play alongside stars that may even outshine him. He was content to play second fiddle, and sometimes even third fiddle, to Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. That ability to put the team first even earned him the scorn of some Madrid fans— and voices in Spain’s sports media— who demanded more hunger and ambition of a player of his talents. Former coach Zinedine Zidane more than once had to defend Benzema when pressed to give then youngster Álvaro Morata a chance to fight for his starting job. Zidane knew what has since become clear to everyone: that Benzema had the potential to become the best striker in the game. FOR SECOND PLACE Barcelona visits Levante on Sunday tied on points with Atlético and Sevilla but with a game in hand on both as they fight it out for a likely second-place finish. Sevilla will look to end a four-match winless skid against Granada on Friday while Atlético travels to Mallorca on Saturday before hosting Manchester City next week needing to overturn a 1-0 loss in their Champions League quarterfinal. Read: Chelsea vs Real Madrid: Champions League Quarter-Final First Leg Team News, Preview Villarreal hosts Athletic Bilbao also on Saturday after beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in the opening leg of their final-eight clash in Europe.