PARIS (Reuters) – Karim Benzema said his disallowed first-half goal spurred Real Madrid into beating Liverpool 1-0 in Saturday’s Champions League final for a record-extending 14th European Cup title.
The France forward, one of the favourites to win the Ballon d’Or – soccer’s most prestigious individual award – found the back of the net on the stroke of halftime, only for his goal to be ruled out for offside after a lengthy VAR review.
It was Real’s first clear chance after they had been put on the back foot by Liverpool and it got them into their groove.
They then scored with their first legal attempt on goal when Vinicius Jr tapped in Federico Valverde’s cross in the 59th minute.
“A final is always complicated. It’s mental work. We are (Spanish) league champions and we didn’t have rhythm, but we scored the offside goal and it got us into the game. In the second half we did as always, won a final,” Benzema, the campaign’s top scorer with 15 goals, said.
He is only the second French player to lift the Champions League trophy as captain after Didier Deschamps with Olympique de Marseille in 1993 and that puts him in pole position to win the Ballon d’Or to be awarded in October.
He knows, however, that the matter is not in his hands any more as the season draws to a close.
“Let’s see what happens. I have trophies and I have nothing else (to prove) on the pitch. The important thing is to enjoy,” he said.
Benzema’s hat-trick in the quarter-final, first leg at Chelsea and his extra-time goal in the return plus his three goals against Manchester City in the semis, including the decisive extra-time penalty, could see him become the first Frenchman to win the Ballon d’Or since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)