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Late Benzema strike saves Zidane's blushes

Pin Benzema scored a sensational late winner to sink Huesca. AFP
Benzema scored a sensational late winner to sink Huesca. AFP

Late Benzema strike saves Zidane's blushes

Zinedine Zidane's risky team selection looked to have backfired as Real Madrid struggled to overcome a fired-up Huesca side, but Karim Benzema came to his manager's rescue by curling in a sensational late winner.

It was all change in Zidane's starting line-up, with Brahim Diaz, recently signed from Manchester City making a rare start. With Thibaut Courtois injured, Keylor Navas was widely expected to start in goal for Los Blancos, but Zidane opted to play his son Luca instead. There were also starts for many of those dropped under Santiago Solari, including Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco.

With the 2-0 victory in Zidane's opening game as manager suddenly seeming a very long time ago due to the international break, Real Madrid looked ring-rusty as they conceded with barely 120 seconds on the clock. Huesca's Cucho was the scorer, arriving to meet a cut-back from the right to slot the ball home from 12 yards out. 

Madrid soon woke up though, and a Dani Ceballos volley flew wide minutes later before successive Benzema efforts failed to find the net. The equaliser came on 24 minutes, with Benzema seeing a low shot parried by Huesca goalkeeper Roberto Santamaria. The ball fell straight to Brahim Diaz, who teed up Isco to scramble home from two yards. 

With the score at 1-1, the game swung from end to end, with Huesca looking just as likely as their hosts to find the net again. But it was Madrid who nudged themselves in front on the hour mark. Gareth Bale, who had otherwise endured a wretched game, found space on the right and hit a majestic cross towards the back post with the outside of his foot. Benzema was waiting, and he headed across goal for Dani Ceballos to bundle home on the line. 

Bale then missed a gilt-edged chance from six yards out to put the game beyond all doubt, much to the dismay of his manager and most of the stadium. He was punished for his proligancy, with Huesca scoring a deserved equaliser on 73 minutes. The visitors played a short corner which Madrid were slow to react to, and Xabier Etxeita popped up at the near post to flick the resulting cross into the net. 

But just as the game looked to be heading towards a 2-2 draw, Karim Benzema picked the ball up on the edge of the area and bent a sensational curling effort into the far top corner of the Huesca goal. It was a cruel goal to concede for the visitors, who had deserved at least a point from their efforts, but one that was celebrated wildly by the watching Bernabeu crowd.

Real Madrid move to within 12 points of league leaders Barcelona with this win, and rather more importantly, are now only two points behind second-placed Atletico. Huesca, on the other hand, remain marooned at the bottom of the table, seven points from safety.

Charles Whitehead

Charles Whitehead

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