MADRID - Karim Benzema has rarely upstaged
Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo but the France striker
achieved that feat with a Champions League hat-trick in
Wednesday's crushing 4-0 win over Auxerre.
Benzema, 22, had previously managed just three goals in all
competitions this season and was behind Gonzalo Higuain in the
pecking order under new coach Jose Mourinho.
GEAR: Up to £10 off Champions League kits with Kitbag. Free delivery on orders over £50
The former Olympique Lyon player, in his seventh start of
the campaign, took his chance with aplomb at the Bernabeu as a
second-string Real brushed aside Auxerre.
Ronaldo also chipped in with a goal, his 20th of the season
in 21 matches in all competitions.
LIVE: Our interactive coverage as it happened
Auxerre's efforts were in any case in vain as Ajax
Amsterdam's 2-0 victory at AC Milan secured third position in
Group G for the Dutch side and a spot in the Europa League.
Nine-times European champions Real had already won the
group, with second-placed Milan also assured of a place in the
Ronaldo, one of three regular first-teamers in the suspended
Mourinho's starting 11, crossed for Benzema to nod in the
opening goal in the 12th minute.
The Portugal winger lashed home the second in the 49th after
Marcelo's fine through ball sent him clear and Benzema netted in
the 72nd with a low shot.
He then intercepted an attempted clearance by goalkeeper
Olivier Sorin before lifting the ball into an empty net to
complete his treble just before the end.
"I am very pleased to have scored three goals," Benzema told
Spanish television. "I am feeling better every day and that is
being reflected on the pitch.
"I am going to work hard to play like I have done today all
Real are looking to end a poor run in Europe's elite club
competition during which they have failed to make the
quarter-finals the past six seasons despite investing heavily in
players and coaching staff.
By winning the group they should avoid another heavyweight
club when the draw is made on December 17 and their performance in
the group phase, with five wins and a draw, was their best in
the Champions League.
Benzema's opening goal was the club's 300th since the
Champions League was created in 1992/93, the first side to reach
Auxerre, who beat Ajax at home in November, finished bottom
of the group with three points and coach Jean Fernandez said his
team had suffered with injuries in a group of former champions
he knew would be tough.
"I said before that Real have what it takes to win the
competition and I would say that they are one of the
favourites," said Fernandez.
"Our priority now is to play a good (French) league campaign
and secure our place in the first division," he added of the
Real's reserve goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek had a mixed night,
making two excellent saves to deny Jean-Pascal Mignot and Dennis
Oliech in the first half before going off after getting a bang
on the head in a collision with Roy Contout.
The former Liverpool keeper, who rarely gets a chance to
replace first-choice Iker Casillas, was given a standing ovation
as he left the pitch and Auxerre hardly troubled his replacement
Mourinho, who left Champions League holders Inter Milan at
the end of last season, watched from the stands after being
suspended following allegations Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos
engineered deliberate red cards in last month's 4-0 win at Ajax.
Assistant coach Aitor Karanka said there was no better way
for Benzema to put his difficult spell behind him.
"He showed he is a born goal scorer and that he helped his
team to win," said Karanka.
Berlin will stage Champions League final for the first time in 2015
Borussia Dortmund's Mario Gotze ruled out of Champions League final against Bayern Munich
Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand signs one-year contract
Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini will leave the La Liga club at the end of the current season
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010