There are two goals that Karim Benzema remembers in a special way: the first at the Bernabeu, a left-footed after a bicycle to Xerez in September 2009 and the Panenka-style penalty in the first leg of last year's Champions League semi-final at the Etihad. On Sunday, when he stood in front of the ball to shoot what looked like it was going to be his last penalty in a Real Madrid shirt, he also chose the centre, albeit without the floating flight with which he outsmarted Ederson in Manchester. Unai Simon beat himself on the right and the ball flew low through the middle.
It was a liberation. For him and for the stands. The Frenchman had gone through his last match between musty and tense, rather lonely. Upon returning from the break, he waited for the resumption planted in the center circle, with his hands tied behind his back, while the rest of the team played with a ball or chatted while holding so that in all fields it would be played again at once. With the ball in play, Benzema was little more than walls in the front, miniatures not too dazzling either.
He grew impatient and the stands shouted his name from time to time, but without much conviction. Between the sadness of the farewell, the discontent for the surprise and the disappointment for not attending a last installment of genius. The emotion was ignited by Vinicius and Rodrygo. The future is already here while the last legend is still slipping away.
Until the penalty. Then Benzema opened his arms, blew kisses to the stadium, saw himself in the center of a circle formed by his teammates and returned to his field applauding above his head. It was a liberation. It was also his last goal for Madrid. The last time he touched the ball at the Bernabeu.
Carlo Ancelotti immediately withdrew it, and Karim left applauding and beating his shield, or his heart. With the Bernabéu finally standing after an afternoon that announced excitement and did not finish uncorking.
🤍✨ We also stand up to bid farewell to a legend of @realmadrid and #LaLigaHistory.
🔝 🔝 @Benzema #RealMadridAthletic#LaLigaSantander#LaLigaHighlights pic.twitter.com/73xN6yoWah
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) June 4, 2023
Life in Madrid moves at an overwhelming speed. Emotional binge eating is difficult to process, and very recent events that led to deep breaks already seem very distant. It's only been two-and-a-half weeks since the 4-0 win in Manchester, just two since Vinicius blasted racism at Mestalla, one and a half since Florentino Perez sat the Brazilian to his right in the box on an afternoon filled with affectionate gestures after Valencia's attacks. All that seems like another life.
Benzema and Vinicius, goodbye to the "duo of darkness"
Because on Friday a trapdoor opened and farewells began to fall: Asensio and Mariano did not renew, and Hazard's contract was terminated a year before what was signed in 2019, when the illusion was full. And on Sunday, just over six hours before the last game of the season, the departure of one of the greatest legends in Madrid's history was announced. Benzema arrived in 2009 and leaves 14 years later with 25 titles, including five Champions Leagues. He also leaves an album with some of the most beautiful creations executed on the grass in recent decades. And above all, the impeccable record of a guy who did at every moment what was best for the team, whether it was boosting Cristiano, who arrived the same summer, or grabbing the flag when the Portuguese emigrated to Juventus.
While Madrid tried to assimilate their last times, the game advanced at low revolutions, with Athletic determined to squeeze their last options to sneak into Europe, which escaped him. But they insisted on the wings with the Williams brothers and with Sancet, who opened the scoring with a double shot to Courtois, who prevented several times from extending the account. As usual.
Benzema celebrates his goal against Athletic in his last game for Madrid, at the Bernabeu.PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (AFP)
Seeing what Atletico were doing, Madrid was worth the draw to finish second. Although it was mostly in the sentimental. Asensio entered in the 58th minute to receive a first ovation, and left shortly after the 90th for the penultimate, while hugging his teammates one by one, something that Benzema did not do when he left.
With everything already finished, they all returned to the field and Nacho returned the armband to Karim. Last applause, last chants. And I send the Frenchman, Asensio, Hazard and Mariano, with diminishing enthusiasm. The last two said goodbye to the Bernabéu in bench clothes. Benzema, almost stealthy, like when he arrived, like when he was prowling the goal.
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