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Benzema nets two, Madrid win first game after World Cup break

BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) – Playing his first match since his World Cup hopes were dashed by an injury, Karim Benzema came the rescue of Real Madrid with a pair of late goals to snatch a 2-0 victory at 10-man Valladolid yesterday.

Benzema had a subdued showing in his first competitive match since November 2 following injuries that had limited his availability for his club and finally sidelined him for his France at football’s elite competition.

But the Ballon d’Or winner came through in the final minutes to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side the three points it needed to provisionally move to the top of the Spanish league standings.

Madrid also relied on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to keep the score deadlocked as it struggled to create chances in its first game since the league paused for seven weeks for the tournament in Qatar.

Valladolid defended well and threatened on the break at its José Zorrilla stadium until the game finally swung in Madrid’s favour when the video assistant referee (VAR) spotted a handball in the area by defender Javi Sánchez.

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (L) is challenged by Real Valladolid’s Alvaro Aguado. PHOTO: AFP

Benzema stepped up and coolly slotted his penalty kick into the left corner as goalkeeper Jordi Masip fell the other way to grab the lead in the 83rd minute.

Valladolid’s chances of hunting for a late equaliser were hurt when striker Sergio León, one of its most incisive players, was shown a direct red card apparently for using inappropriate language while protesting the penalty decision.

Benzema then got his brace in the 89th after a pass by substitute Eduardo Camavinga.

“Benzema played very well given that he had barely played in the last three months,” Courtois said. “Maybe he was lacking a bit of pace. I bet the Karim of last year would have scored even more goals, but it is good for him to get this double.”

Before Benzema put Madrid ahead, Courtois made two great saves to deny León and midfielder Álvaro Aguado. Courtois used a one-handed diving save to stop Aguado’s long-range strike in the first half. He then got low to turn back León’s header in the 68th.

“Courtois’ saves were decisive,” said Valladolid coach Pacheta Martín, whose team slid into 15th place.

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