Real Madrid rally leaves PSG chasing goals and ghosts

MADRID — Karim Benzema couldn’t know, not consciously, what he was doing. Everything happened too quickly, too chaotically, to be anyth...

MADRID — Karim Benzema couldn’t know, not consciously, what he was doing. Everything happened too quickly, too chaotically, to be anything other than instinctive. He stood on the edge of the Paris Saint-Germain penalty area. The ball slipped through a thicket of players. It was at his feet. He kicked a foot, a flash of movement, a twitch, a twitch. And then everything melted around him.

Benzema rushed around the corner at the Santiago Bernabéu, his remodeling still in progress, where the new is slowly emerging from the old. His real Madrid his teammates sprinted from all sides to join him, attack him, swallow him. David Alaba grabbed a plastic folding chair and held it above his head. The stands above were writhing and shaking, the crowd driven mad by witnessing the impossible.

Not quite 20 minutes earlier, Real Madrid were out of the Champions League. As good as gone, anyway. The team that pride themselves as the kings of Europe – like a banner unfurled by the club’s ultras before the start of the game – looked old and tired, caught in the megawatt glare of PSG’s star power .

It wasn’t just that Kylian Mbappé scored, extending the French side’s lead to two goals in aggregate; it was that he had seen two others not cleared for offside, one of them the kind of moment only the truly great can conjure up, somehow leaving Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, sprawled on the grass when he didn’t even touch the ball.

Every move Mbappé shimmered with menace, sparkled with energy. Éder Militao, the defender in charge of following him, is no slouch, but he spent much of the evening breathing hard, his eyes glued to the heels of the Frenchman. Neymar too began to drift and dance, to poke holes and pull strings. For an hour, one team looked like the future, and the other looked like the past.

The Bernabéu also felt it. Half of the stadium remains scarred by engineering works, but the club had found a way to cram in 61,000 fans, its biggest crowd in two years. They had gathered hours before, lighting flares and launching firecrackers through the streets leading off from Paseo de la Castellana, the bravado erasing doubts and fears.

They had found in themselves the courage to applaud Mbappé when his name was announced – they maybe see it more, after all – but that was not what they had come to see. Real Madrid aren’t supposed to be a foil to someone else’s exhibition. The grunts and moans, muffled at first, intensified with each pass from PSG.

And then, out of nowhere, everything changed. Gianluigi Donnarumma trailed on the ball; Benzema dismissed him. The ball fell on Vinicius Junior, who returned it to Benzema, a few meters from goal. Suddenly, Real Madrid had a glow. In this competition, a glow is all that’s needed.

The knockout stages of the Champions League have, in recent years, made a habit of producing the unthinkable; it happens so frequently now that the only conclusion is that the spectacular is embedded in the underlying code of the competition. Through a combination of factors – the high stakes, the pressure and the critical mass of talent – it has become the most fertile ground imaginable for the spectacular.

No one is immune. It’s happened at Ajax, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid itself over the years. But whether through correlation or causation, it seems to be happening to both Paris Saint-Germain and Lionel Messi, far more than you might expect.

For PSG, this first goal from Benzema carried with it the echo of the failures that marred its desperate and costly attempts to win this competition: the devastation of the Parc des Princes by Manchester United and, above all, the 6-1 defeat. in Barcelona in 2017, the game the club spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to forget.

Messi too seemed to have seen a ghost. He was present, after all, for Barcelona’s collapses at Roma in 2018 and Anfield in 2019; he was on the pitch the day the greatest club team in history succumbed, 8-2, at Bayern Munich in 2020. He was helpless then, and he looks helpless now.

He had, in truth, been a peripheral figure for much of the game, only occasionally coming alive, overshadowed even when PSG were rampant by Mbappé’s dynamism and youthfulness. As soon as Real Madrid scored and the Bernabéu roared, however, he seemed to disappear completely, an uncaring and diminished figure, the greatest force in agency football to ever see, seemingly resigned to his fate.

When he arrived, he hit him and his teammates like a wave, moving the ground beneath their feet in the space of no more than 120 seconds. Luka Modric, a veteran who rages more effectively against the death of light, fed Benzema, who smuggled the ball past Donnarumma, drawing Madrid level overall.

The sound of celebrations still echoed around the Bernabéu as the ball popped for Benzema and he kicked a foot and he ran away, arms outstretched, in a writhing white mass.

There was, even then, still time for PSG, for the most expensive team in football history, to find a goal against a team they had tackled against the ropes minutes earlier, but they seemed almost too anxious, too bewildered. , to believe it.

Mbappé, Neymar and Messi, this strike force among the best that existed, the best that is and the best that could still exist, prowled the field desperately. They knew how it ended: with long shots of them with their heads lowered, their eyes haunted, staring at the ground or staring into the distance. By the time the final whistle sounded, as the Real Madrid players crumbled on their backs and PSG crumbled to their knees, Messi was no longer in sight. He had disappeared from the field without a look, without a word. It was possible, in the chaos, to forget that he had ever been there.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Real Madrid rally leaves PSG chasing goals and ghosts
Real Madrid rally leaves PSG chasing goals and ghosts
Newsrust - US Top News
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