Karim Benzema sent Real Madrid through to the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday alongside their rivals Atletico, while Neymar scored a hat-trick as Paris Saint-Germain beat Istanbul Basaksehir in a match that was delayed for 24 hours over a racism row
Real Madrid are Europe’s most decorated club with 13 European Cups but they needed to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach in Madrid to be sure of making it through the group stage of the Champions League for a 24th straight year.
Benzema was their hero, easing the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane with two fine back-post headers in the first half securing a 2-0 win in a game played behind closed doors at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
“Each match is a final and I think that if we always play how we did today, no team can hurt us,” said Benzema, who has played in four Champions League final wins with Real in the last seven seasons.
The Frenchman also hit the bar in the second half and in the end it was a result that suited both teams, with a 0-0 draw between Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk allowing Real to top Group B and Gladbach, former European Cup runners-up, to go through as runners-up.
Players from the German club gathered around smartphones and laptops after fulltime in Madrid to follow events in Milan, where a winner for either team would have knocked Gladbach out.
They celebrated wildly when their qualification was confirmed.
“Moments like that live long in the memory. It was absolutely incredible and the joy was uncontainable,” said Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer.
INTER FAIL AGAIN
Shakhtar go into the Europa League while Inter finish bottom of their group, failing to reach the last 16 for a third season running.
Meanwhile Atletico needed to beat Red Bull Salzburg in Austria to qualify as runners-up in Group A behind Bayern Munich, and did so with Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco scoring in a 2-0 victory.
“I think in the nine years we’ve been here, we have reached the last 16 eight times,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
“I enjoy looking back at that. Lots of people will say it’s just normal for us but I don’t think it’s normal.”
Salzburg now go into the Europa League while reigning European champions Bayern completed the group stage unbeaten as Niklas Suele and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting gave them a 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.
The other team to clinch qualification on Wednesday was Atalanta, whose 1-0 win away to Ajax secured second place in Group D behind Liverpool and a last-16 spot for the second year running.
Luis Muriel scored a late winner for Atalanta in Amsterdam after Ryan Gravenberch was sent off for the hosts, who drop into the Europa League.
Already through, Liverpool were able to give a chance to several younger players in their 1-1 draw with Midtjylland in Denmark, where Mohamed Salah put the 2019 winners ahead early on but Alexander Scholz’s penalty gave the hosts an honourable draw.
PSG had wrapped up their qualification for the last 16 on Tuesday thanks to Manchester United’s defeat at RB Leipzig, despite their own game being suspended after an unprecedented walkout.
Both sets of players refused to continue after a row erupted over an alleged racist remark by the fourth official aimed at Basaksehir’s assistant coach, Pierre Webo.
With a new set of officials, the game restarted in the 14th minute on Wednesday and an irresistible Neymar scored a hat-trick while also winning a penalty converted by Kylian Mbappe.
That was Mbappe’s first Champions League goal in 12 months, and he scored again later on after Mehmet Topal pulled one back. With their 5-1 victory, PSG go through as group winners.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City made it five wins and a draw in Group D as they eased to a 3-0 victory against Marseille with Ferran Torres and Sergio Aguero getting second-half goals before an Alvaro Gonzalez own goal.
Also already qualified, Porto beat Olympiakos 2-0 in Piraeus courtesy of Otavio’s early penalty and a Matheus Uribe goal. The Greeks, who ended with 10 men, finish third in the section.
The draw for the last 16 is on Monday.
Ronaldo denies Saudi Arabia transfer deal, rejects new offer from Australia
Cristiano Ronaldo has denied reports linking him with a potential move to Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Nassr on a lucrative offer worth £173million-a-year.
The Portuguese star, who came off the bench in Portugal’s 6-1 thumping of Switzerland, said after the match that the report is untrue.
Ronaldo is a free agent after reaching a mutual agreement with Manchester United to terminate his contract following his explosive interview with journalist, Piers Morgan.
This has intensified interest from clubs with reports rife in the media recently of a deal reached with Al-Nassr that would see the 37-year-old forward ply his trade in the Middle East.
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“No, that is not true – not true,” Ronaldo said.
The five-time Ballon d’Or has also rejected a move to join a club in Australia (A-League).
A-League chief Danny Townsend disclosed the plans to lure Ronaldo to Australia shortly after the 37-year-old’s Manchester United exit but has now confirmed that the Portugal captain has knocked back their offer.
“We had interesting discussions, and there was genuine interest, but it’s clear he has other priorities at this stage,” Townsend told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal reach W’Cup quarter-finals
Goncalo Ramos justified the shock decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo by scoring a hat-trick on his full debut as Portugal demolished Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday to power into the World Cup quarter-finals.
The 21-year-old Ramos, who started instead of Ronaldo, became the youngest player to strike three times in a World Cup knockout match since Pele in 1958.
Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao were also on target for a rampant Portugal, who booked a showdown with Morocco on Saturday for a place in the last four in Qatar.
Ronaldo, 37 and now without a club after his departure from Manchester United, has hogged the headlines during the tournament while looking a shadow of his former self.
The only man to score at five World Cups, Ronaldo was left out by coach Fernando Santos against the Swiss following his angry response to being substituted in the last group game.
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It was a bold call to omit a player with a record 118 international goals in favour of giving a full debut to Ramos, the Benfica striker who had played just 33 minutes across three previous appearances.
But it took just 17 minutes for Ramos to reward Santos’ faith, and to achieve something Ronaldo has never done — score in a World Cup knockout game.
Joao Felix clipped delicately into the feet of Ramos, who quickly swivelled past Fabian Schaer and rifled into the roof of the net past a stunned Yann Sommer.
Otavio, who returned to the Portugal midfield after injury in their opening match, shot straight at Sommer before Ramos did likewise moments later.
Xherdan Shaqiri drew a fingertip stop from Diogo Costa with a dipping free-kick from distance, but Portugal soon had their second.
Bruno Fernandes whipped in a corner and the 39-year-old Pepe towered above the Swiss defence to powerfully head home.
Diogo Dalot hacked Remo Freuler’s header off the line after Diogo Costa failed to properly deal with a cross, but the Swiss simply had no answers against an irresistible Portugal.
Ramos turned in his second from close range six minutes into the second half from Dalot’s cross down the right.
He then turned provider by playing in Guerreiro to lash in another just four minutes later as the Swiss defence was ruthlessly ripped apart.
It was also Ramos who inadvertently glanced a corner towards Manuel Akanji at the far post as the Manchester City centre-back pulled one back for Switzerland.
Ramos completed his treble after more outstanding work from Felix, nonchalantly dinking over Sommer with one of his final touches before making way for Ronaldo.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s introduction elicited the biggest roar of the night. Ronaldo did have the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out for a clear offside.
Leao capped off a sensational Portugal performance with a terrific curling strike in stoppage time.
Spain’s World Cup exit to Morocco ‘cruel’ – Busquets
Sergio Busquets said Spain’s 3-0 defeat on penalties by Morocco was a “cruel” way to decide the World Cup last-16 clash on Tuesday after the teams drew 0-0.
The midfielder’s spot-kick was saved by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou as the 2010 World Cup winners failed to score any of their penalties.
“It was a pity. It was decided on penalties in the most cruel way,” said Busquets.
“It was tough, very hard for us. We tried to wear them down, give them the run-around, find spaces. We lacked that little luck for the final ball.”
pain were also knocked out of Euro 2020 on penalties in the semi-finals by Italy.
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Busquets, 34, would not be immediately drawn on whether he would continue playing international football.
“Now the most important thing is the national team and not me,” said the Barcelona player.
“It’s a tough night and we have to pick ourselves up and use this as experience for our game. There are some very young players who this will help a lot.”
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was the hero in Euro 2020 against Switzerland in a quarter-final shoot-out but on this occasion he could only stop one of Morocco’s efforts.
“I think in the 120 minutes of the game, we were superior to our opponents, but what I say counts for little now if we can’t find the net,” added Simon, who saved Badr Benoun’s penalty.
“In the shoot-out they were superior and that is what took them to the quarter-finals.
“We are seeing that there are surprises throughout the World Cup. We were not capable of overcoming them and we did not expect to be eliminated against Morocco, but it’s the reality and now we have to go home.”
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