Benzema scores 2 as Madrid recovers to beat Eibar

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema scores a goal against Eibar during the Spanish league football match in Madrid on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Benzema scores 2 as Madrid recovers to beat Eibar

  • The club remains 10 points behind Barcelona, which hosts Atletico Madrid later

LONDO: Karim Benzema scored twice as Real Madrid recovered from a poor first half to beat Eibar 2-1 at home in the Spanish league on Saturday.

The French striker canceled out an opening goal by Eibar’s Marc Cardona before grabbing the winner in the 81st minute.

Benzema has been Madrid’s best player in an otherwise disappointing season, when most of his teammates have played poorly. He has 26 goals in all competitions, including Madrid’s last four goals. He netted a late winner for a 3-2 victory over Huesca last weekend and scored in a 2-1 loss at Valencia on Wednesday.

Madrid was heading toward another defeat after a first half that Eibar dictated, helped by the hosts’ sloppy passing and lax defending.

After threatening with several dangerous crosses, Eibar went ahead five minutes before halftime after a slick buildup that involved four players.

Jose Angel Valdes exchanged passes with Marc Cucurella before finding Gonzalo Escalante in the area. Escalante then slid a pass through four Madrid defenders to the far post, where Cardona chipped it over sprawling goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Madrid’s fed-up fans jeered their team at several moments in the first half, but most of their frustration was directed at Gareth Bale, who earned whistles for a poor shot, a bad pass and for repeatedly being caught offside.

Eibar lost center back Ivan Ramis to an apparent leg injury, just before Benzema leveled in the 59th when he headed in a cross by Marco Asensio.

Madrid improved after the goal, and Benzema completed the turnaround when he outjumped his marker to head in a cross by substitute Toni Kroos.

Benzema had three chances to score a third goal, including one that hit the upright.

Madrid remained in third place, at 10 points behind leader Barcelona, which hosts second-placed Atletico Madrid later.

Separately, Ashley Barnes went from zero to hero as Burnley boosted their bid for English Premier League survival with a crucial 3-1 win against Bournemouth on Saturday.

Sean Dyche’s side made the worst possible start at Dean Court when Barnes headed into his own net as he tried to clear under pressure from Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake in the fourth minute.

However, Burnley were gifted an equalizer in the 18th minute as Bournemouth keeper Asmir Begovic let Ashley Westwood’s corner go straight through his hands and Chris Wood nodded in at the far post.

Inspired by the New Zealand forward’s 11th goal this season, the Clarets struck again two minutes later, with Westwood firing home after Chris Mepham failed to clear Dwight McNeil’s cross.

Burnley were well on top and Barnes struck at the right end in the 57th minute.

Once again Begovic was guilty of poor handling, allowing the ball to slip to Wood, who laid it back for Barnes to slot into the empty net.

Burnley are eight points clear of the relegation zone, and although third bottom Cardiff have a game in hand, Dyche’s men have taken a major step toward staying up.

Leicester powered to a 4-1 rout of relegated Huddersfield as Brendan Rodgers’ side moved into seventh.


Spain looking for a partner for Ramos in defense

Updated 12 min 39 sec ago

Spain looking for a partner for Ramos in defense

  • Since Piqué retired from the national team Spain have struggled to find a reliable partner for Ramos

MADRID: Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué were the pillar of Spain’s defense for years and were crucial to the team’s success over the last decade.

The central defenders formed an uncontested duo that helped “La Roja” dominate world football, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012.

But since Piqué retired from the national team after last year’s World Cup, Spain have struggled to find a reliable partner for Ramos in defense.

The 33-year-old Ramos has been with the national team since 2005 and set a record for most appearances with Spain on Saturday, in the team’s 1-1 draw at Norway in qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. He surpassed Iker Casillas’ mark by playing in his 168th match with the
national team.

Ramos has been surrounded mostly by newcomers since Piqué decided to focus on his time with Barcelona, and none has taken over as an indisputable replacement.

One of the most experienced defenders who made it to Spain’s squad recently is 34-year-old Raúl Albiol, who has little more than 50 appearances with the national team.

Against Norway, it was only the second time Albiol partnered with Ramos. Despite a decent performance by the Villarreal defender, Spain could not hold on to a late lead, conceding an equalizer in stoppage time to postpone Spain’s qualification for Euro 2020.

Iñigo Martínez was another central defender who played against Norway, replacing leftback Juan Bernat in the final minutes to try to aid the defense near the end.

“La Roja” will get another chance to qualify on Tuesday when they visit Sweden, when coach Robert Moreno will have an even greater challenge to overcome as Ramos will not be available because of suspension.

Other recent partners for Ramos include Nacho Fernández, Mario Hermoso and Diego Llorente. Also called up after Pique’s departure were Unai Nuñez and Pau Torres, the 22-year-old Villarreal defender touted as a future star but who is yet to make an appearance with the national team.

“When I was younger I looked up to defenders like Gerard and Sergio,” Torres said. “For me it’s a privilege to be able to share the changing room with Sergio Ramos and to learn from him and from the other defenders on the team.”

Ramos, Spain’s longtime captain, recently also surpassed Casillas’ record for most wins with the Spanish national team. He hasn’t talked much about his own retirement, although some rumors surfaced when he recently admitted to the possibility of joining Spain’s Under-23 squad to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Moreno said he sees the possible attempt by Ramos as a way for him to stay motivated and add to his already successful career.

“It would be unfair to keep players in the national team only because of their names,” Moreno said. “They would be the first to say that they don’t want to keep playing if they are not at a high level.

“But I’m certain that Sergio will keep practicing hard day after day and I’m certain that he will keep playing at this level.”