MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema had grown used to being booed at the Bernabeu but the Frenchman won over the critical home fans by scoring twice in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich to secure a place in the Champions League final.
Benzema was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by Gareth Bale, having cancelled out Joshua Kimmich’s early strike with a headed goal and later pounced on keeper Sven Ulreich’s untimely slip to net the decisive goal in a 4-3 aggregate win.
Bayern’s on-loan Real midfielder James Rodriguez levelled for the German champions who rallied late on in search of a goal that would have sent them to the final but Madrid held out to reach the European showpiece for a third year in a row.
They will meet AS Roma or Liverpool, who lead 5-2 going into their second leg on Wednesday, in the Kiev final on May 26.
Benzema had been heavily criticised by the demanding Real fans and Spanish media throughout the season for his meagre goals return in this campaign, which had seen him score only eight times in all competitions before Tuesday.
“It’s clear that it had to come, Karim is a great player and he doesn’t have to score goals every day to show what he’s worth,” said Real defender Marcelo.
“We are confident in him because we know his quality and we knew that sooner or later he would respond. We all have bad nights.”
Real coach Zinedine Zidane has had to face almost weekly questions from the media about Benzema’s form and where it left his future at the club, and the forward came in for renewed scrutiny after a poor display last Saturday against Leganes.
Zidane has always defended his compatriot and he was glad to see his player enjoy a turn of fortune against Bayern.
“I’m delighted for him, it was exactly what he had wanted to do for so long, to score, he did it twice and gave us the possibility to go through,” said Zidane.
Benzema had also shouldered a lot of blame for the team’s disastrous domestic campaign, which has seen saw them fall 15 points behind Liga champions Barcelona and below second-placed local rivals Atletico Madrid in the standings.
Spanish newspaper Marca ran a story on Sunday headlined “Something is up with Benzema”, which claimed Zidane’s patience with the striker was running out, as shown by him being dropped to the bench against Atletico Madrid, in the quarter-final second leg against Juventus and in the first leg at Bayern.
Zidane, however, said he and the rest of the Madrid squad had kept their faith in the striker despite his struggles.
“It had been difficult for him to not score but he always does his job, he doesn’t give up. I’m not the only one who believed in him, the players did too and tonight the fans showed their appreciation,” added the Frenchman.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris