Benzema scores twice in 12 seconds to inspire stunning Real Madrid comeback and knock out PSG
Paris Saint-Germain just appear to find ways to implode in the Champions League and with this extraordinary exit their head coach Mauricio Pochettino can also expect to depart at the end of the season.
Whether he goes to Manchester United remains to be seen – it certainly helps with his availability – as they may have looked on alarmingly as this tie, with PSG in total control thanks to Kylian Mbappe, was turned on its head.
Karim Benzema has listened to debates as to whether Mbappe or Robert Lewandowski or Mohamed Salah is now the best forward in the world and responded with this: a remarkable second-half hat-trick as the 34-year-old so improbably drove Real into the quarter-finals.
Going out of the Champions League at this stage will probably also drive Mbappe closer to Real with the Spanish giants confident he will join them when his contract runs out. It probably also saved Real coach Carlo Ancelotti and there were huge ramifications everywhere.
PSG only have themselves to blame although that blame will probably largely fall on Pochettino who failed to arrest the turnaround after Real were gifted a way back into this tie through an awful blunder by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. What a comeback and what a capitulation.
There were 60,000 back in the Bernabeu, as Covid restrictions were eased, and it felt like more. It certainly felt like more in the manic, massed streets around the re-modelled stadium and that intensity steepled as kick-off closed in.
When the teams were read out there was a cheer from the Madridistas for Mbappe who they feel is destined to join their club next season even as PSG fight to persuade him to sign a contract extension and stay for at least one more year.
He twice served notice of a different kind. Firstly, he was set running down the left by Neymar – after Messi won the ball back on the edge of the PSG penalty area – with Thibaut Courtois blocking his low shot and then he pounced on a mistake by Eder Militao. This time the angle was better but again Courtois saved.
He served notice again. This time it was ruled out for offside in the build-up. And then he scored. It was a sumptuous finish, another example of how he just seems quicker, sharper even against exalted defenders such as David Alaba. It came as Real pressed with Dani Carvajal losing possession and Neymar sweeping a fine first-time pass down the left. Mbappe was five yards inside his own half and then he was five yards ahead of Militao and bearing down on Alaba before deceiving Courtois, opening up his body, giving the goalkeeper ‘the eyes’, with a thunderous finish inside his near post. The Bernabeu was stunned; deflated. How they covet him and how they feared this. Mbappe just seems to play at double the speed of everyone else. Ancelotti chewed his gum ever more fiercely.
“Somos los Reyes de Europa” (We are the kings of Europe) read a huge banner unfurled along the length of the south stand as a reminder of Real’s pedigree in this competition, as 13-time winners, but the threat was coming from PSG after an initial storm whipped up by Vinicius Junior and the crown was slipping. Tactically PSG were on top with Messi dropping deep to be their creator-in-chief.
Still, before Mbappe scored, Real will reflect on a superb save by Gianluigi Donnarumma, preferred ahead of Keylor Navas who was desperate to face his former club and looked visibly upset on the bench, as he dived to his left to finger-tip a first-time from Karim Benzema around the post after Marquinhos has sloppily lost possession. Later Benzema would be picked out but could only steer his header wide as the frustration grew among the Real fans who feared this was slipping away.
Meanwhile when Mbappe put the ball out of play with David Alaba lying on the turf some Real fans gave him a standing ovation. It must have been painful watching him tear them apart and knowing, tantalisingly, that he could be theirs.
Did Real have anything left? It did not appear so when Mbappe finished but once more it was ruled out for offside. He burst through soon after, running on to Messi’s chip, only to be stopped by Alaba’s desperate last-ditch tackle.
Just as Alaba tried to whip up the crowd, who were resigned, Real scored. It was a gift, a terrible mistake from Donnarumma who dallied on a back pass as he tried to play it across goal with Benzema closing him down and the ball breaking to Vinicius who quickly turned it back the Real captain. Benzema side footed home and suddenly the mood swung with the striker then heading narrowly wide as an air of panic gripped PSG.
Vinicius should have scored from substitute Idrissa Gueye’s error, but ballooned over before Benzema did just that with Luka Modric wonderfully threading the ball through and his shot deflecting off Marquinhos and into the net. Incredibly he completed his hat-trick from the re-start as Marquinhos tried to stop Vinicius but could only play it to the striker who flicked it first-time past Donnarumma. Astonishing