Benzema nets 2, Madrid wins 1st game after World Cup break


BARCELONA, Spain — Karim Benzema, playing in his first match since injury derailed his World Cup hopes, rallied Real Madrid with a pair of late goals to claim a 2-0 win at 10-man Valladolid on Friday.

Benzema had a slow performance in his first competitive game since November 2. Injuries limited his availability for his club and eventually sidelined him for France in football’s elite competition.

But the Ballon d’Or winner came on in the closing minutes to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side the three points they needed to temporarily go top of the Spanish league table.

Madrid relied on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as he struggled to create chances in his first game since the league was suspended for seven weeks for the match in Qatar.

Valladolid defended well and threatened on the break at its Jose Sorilla Stadium, with the game finally turning in Madrid’s favor when the video assistant referee saw defender Javi Sanchez volley in the area.

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Benzema stepped up and slotted his penalty into the left corner after goalkeeper Jordi Masib fell another way to take the lead in the 83rd minute.

Valladolid’s chances of chasing a late equalizer suffered when striker Sergio Leone was shown a straight red card for using inappropriate language to protest a penalty decision.

Benzema got his brace in the 89th with a pass from substitute Eduardo Kamavinga.

“Benzema played well considering he has rarely played in the last three months,” Courtois said. “Maybe he was a little off pace. I bet Kareem would have scored more goals last year, but he better get this double.

Courtois made two fine saves to deny Lyon and midfielder Alvaro Aguado before Benzema put Madrid ahead. Courtois dived with one hand to stop Aguado’s long-range strike in the first half. He then deflected Lyon’s header in the 68th.

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“Courtois’ saves were decisive,” said Valladolid coach Pachetta Martin, whose side slipped to 15th.

Madrid move a point clear of Barcelona ahead of Javi Hernandez’s side’s derby against Espanyol on Saturday.

A minute’s silence was observed before kickoff in memory of Brazil legend Pele, who passed away on Thursday. Ronaldo, the former Brazil and Madrid star and current owner of Valladolid, stood in the stands with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez as he paid tribute. Brazil forward Vinicius Jr. closed his eyes and held his head up in midfield with the rest of the players.

Sevilla remained in the relegation zone after a 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo.

Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli has overhauled his attacking scheme after playmaker Isco Alarcon, who was used as a “false nine” before the World Cup break, left the club by mutual consent last week. In his place, Sampaoli started two of his biggest strikers, Youssef N-Nesiri and Rafa Mir.

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Zelda’s Capri Vaiga beat Moroccan goalkeeper Yassin Bouno in the 33rd, and Iago Aspas met his run with a perfectly weighted pass after Weiga recovered. It was 20-year-old Viega’s fourth goal.

Erik Lamela was sent on for N-Nesiri at half-time after Sevilla failed to create any scoring chances in the first half.

After Zelda goalkeeper Lamela pushed a shot onto the post, Kik Salas headed in the resulting corner kick to level the score in the 54th.

Sevilla finished with 10 men after Jose Carmona was shown a second yellow card in the 86th.

Argentine defender and world champion Marcos Acuna started for Sevilla.

Borja Mayoral scored twice in the second half to help Mallorca secure a 2-0 win over Getafe.

Lucas Perez’s late goal earned Cádiz a 1-1 draw at home to Almeria.

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