Red-hot Benzema leads Real Madrid back to Copa semifinals
MADRID (AP) — With another great performance by Karim Benzema, Real Madrid secured a comfortable 3-1 win in its visit to Girona on Thursday to reach the Copa del Rey semifinals for the first time in five years.
Madrid advanced 7-3 on aggregate having won the first leg 4-2 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium last week.
Benzema continued his scoring form by finding the net twice in the first half at Montilivi Stadium. The Frenchman has five goals in his last three matches, with one of the goals coming in the match against Girona in Madrid. He had also scored twice in the team’s 4-2 win over Espanyol in the Spanish league on Sunday.
Benzema on Thursday reached 209 career goals with Real Madrid, surpassing Hugo Sanchez for sixth-place all-time in the club’s list of scoring leaders.
Benzema had been among the players targeted by some Madrid fans as the team struggled not long ago, but his recent performances have quieted the critics.
“I feel bad for those who only found out about Benzema last week,” Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said. “But there is still time to enjoy him. There’s no doubt that he is going through a great phase.”
Benzema scored his first goal on Thursday in the 27th minute with a left-foot shot from inside the area after a pass by Dani Carvajal, then added his second in the 43rd with a curling low shot from close range after being set up by Vinicius Junior.
Girona pulled one back through Pedro Porro in the 71st, but midfielder Marcos Llorente sealed Madrid’s victory with a shot from outside the area five minutes later.
Madrid had been eliminated in the Copa quarterfinals the last two seasons. The last time it had made it to the semifinals was in 2014, when it won its 19th title.
“We hadn’t made it to this stage in a few years, so we have to enjoy this,” Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas said.
Girona, in its third season in the first division, was playing in the Copa quarterfinals for the first time. The Catalan club has lost four games in row in all competitions and hasn’t won in 11 straight matches.
With the comfortable win, Solari was able to rest some of his players, with Benzema among those replaced in the second half.
On Wednesday, four-time defending Copa champion Barcelona routed Sevilla 6-1 at home to advance to the semifinals 6-3 on aggregate, while Real Betis defeated visiting Espanyol 3-1 in extra time to reach the last four. On Tuesday, Valencia scored twice in stoppage time to defeat Getafe 3-1 and advance to the semifinals 3-2 on aggregate.
The draw for the semifinals will be on Friday.
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