‘Legendary’ Benzema strikes on Madrid farewell to earn Bilbao draw
Real Madrid’s departing great Karim Benzema struck from the penalty spot to earn his side a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday as he said goodbye to fans at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Benzema, whom Madrid confirmed would leave this summer earlier in the day, departing after 14 years at the club, rolled his penalty down the middle to level the game, before being substituted to great applause.
The draw ensured Real Madrid would finish above city rivals Atletico Madrid in second place, after Diego Simeone’s side tied 2-2 at Villarreal.
“I don’t think it’s been a cold goodbye, the club will prepare an event in the coming days — you have to take into account Karim’s character, quite coy,” said Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti.
“I spoke with him this morning and he told me he was going. He’s taken the decision and I told him I respect it completely.”
Ancelotti said Benzema’s decision came by surprise, after the Italian himself said Saturday he expected the forward to stay.
“I have coached one of the best in the world, not a forward, a complete footballer,” continued the coach.
“A very friendly, humble, serious person. We can’t be happy he is going, but we have to respect his decision. What he has done at this club is legendary and unforgettable.”
Athletic were the stronger team and only a stunning Thibaut Courtois penalty save to deny Mikel Vesga kept his team level at the break.
Oihan Sancet struck early in the second half to give the visitors the lead but Benzema netted from the spot after a soft penalty was given for a foul on Eder Militao.
It was the 35-year-old’s 354th goal of a sparkling career in the Spanish capital after his 2009 move from Lyon.
Benzema, who has won five Champions League titles and La Liga on four occasions, seems to be set to play in Saudi Arabia, where former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo has moved.
Vinicius Junior made his first appearance for Real Madrid since he was racially abused by Valencia fans, causing worldwide anger and support for him.
Madrid captain Benzema was given a warm send-off by his team-mates at the end, throwing him into the air, along with other departing players, including Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard.
“It’s been a pleasure for me to play with (Benzema), he’s an excellent player, a legend,” Courtois told Movistar.
“It’s a shame he’s going but he’s earned the right to choose his future.”
Madrid’s season was a disappointing one — they won the Copa del Rey but were beaten heavily by Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals and finish at least 10 points behind their most bitter rivals, champions Barcelona.
Atletico had hoped to finish above rivals Madrid after a superb second half of the season, but their draw ensured they finish a point behind Ancelotti’s side.
Antoine Griezmann set up two goals for Angel Correa, but Nicolas Jackson and Jorge Pascual’s stoppage time strike earned Villarreal a point.
Osasuna beat Girona 2-1 to climb above Athletic and snatch seventh place — qualification to next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League.
Ante Budimir hit a brace for the Copa del Rey runners-up, who were able to celebrate their fine season with supporters at El Sadar.
Europa League champions Sevilla fell to a 2-1 defeat at Real Sociedad, who were able to celebrate their fourth-place finish with a victory in San Sebastian.