MADRID, Feb 16: Real Madrid shrugged off conceding an early goal to take a huge step towards a seventh straight Champions League quarterfinal as goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro sealed a 3-1 win over Napoli on Wednesday.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring their first goal against Napoli during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, on Wednesday.
Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning 40-yard strike had the travelling hordes in dream land after just eight minutes of the last 16 first leg.
However, Benzema soon headed home an equaliser before Kroos and Casemiro fired home from outside the box early in the second half to give the holders a commanding lead ahead of the second leg on March 7.
“We played a great game, above all at the start,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“The shame was to concede given the start we made, but we equalised quickly to get back in the game and in the end it is a logical result.”
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri lamented his side’s slackness in possession, but believes they still have a chance back at the San Paolo given it had taken what he considered Real’s best performance in three months to beat them.
“Clearly Madrid played their best game of the past three months and we didn’t play our best,” said Sarri.
“If we manage to play at our best we are not that far away. We may lose (in the second leg) but we can go for it.”
With former Napoli great Diego Maradona watching on, the atmosphere reached fever pitch before kick-off as up to 10,000 travelling fans were estimated to have made the trip from Naples for only their side’s second ever appearance in the last 16.
By contrast, Real are in the knockout stages for the 20th straight season and it was the home fans who nearly had something to cheer inside 30 seconds as Benzema’s shot from close range was parried by Pepe Reina.
However, it was Napoli who got off to the perfect start just eight minutes in when Insigne took aim from 40 yards and caught Madrid ‘keeper Keylor Navas out of position with a superb effort that curled around the Costa Rica international.
Madrid, though, showed the response of champions to level just 10 minutes later when Dani Carvajal’s cross with the outside of his right boot picked out Benzema to power home a header from close range. – AFP