Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane hails 'great player' Karim Benzema: 'He expected to score goals'
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said previously under fire Karim Benzema had never given up after the recalled Frenchman's two goals helped his team to a fourth Champions League final in five years.
Real advanced 4-3 on aggregate after a 2-2 second-leg draw on Tuesday, but Bayern shocked the home side when right-back Joshua Kimmich was allowed to open the scoring, just like in Munich last week.
Benzema, who'd played well below his usual standards this season, soon headed Madrid back level on the night. And just after half-time, the former Lyon man took advantage of a howler by visiting goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to put the 2014, 2016 and 2017 champions in control of the tie.
Ex-Madrid playmaker James Rodriguez slammed home for 2-2 setting up a grandstand finish, during which Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas made a string of saves from Bayern players including Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and David Alaba.
Speaking after the match, the Los Blancos coach told the postgame news conference that it had been "difficult" for his fellow countryman Benzema in recent months but -- just as with his display in last year's semifinal second leg at Atletico Madrid -- he had shown himself a great player when it really counted.
"I am happy for him," Zidane said. "He expected this, to score goals, and two today gave us the chance to go through. It has been difficult when he was not scoring, but he kept working, did not drop his hands. Not just me, but his teammates and the fans, showed their support, and we are happy for him now.
"He showed tonight, as he did last year, that he was a great player. I always defended him, but as I defend all my players, not just Karim Benzema."
Navas also redeemed himself for a mistake in the first leg in Germany last week with a string of impressive stops. Asked mischievously if the often-questioned Costa Rica international was the world's best goalkeeper, the former galactico said it had been a complete performance from his team's No. 1.
"Keylor gave us a lot with his saves, and not just his saves, he came off his line too when they were putting crosses in," Zidane said. "We are happy with Keylor. He is Real Madrid's goalkeeper."
Last season Madrid became the first team to retain the Champions League in the modern era. And they can become the first side to win three consecutive European Cups since the mid-1970s in Kiev on May 26 against either Liverpool or Roma.
"We are only in the final now," Zidane cautioned. "We can be happy, and we should be, as it is not normal to be in three consecutive finals. But now that we are, what we must do is try and win it.
"We will do everything possible to defend our title as we can. To achieve three finals in a row is very nice, a beautiful feeling. This is why we live football, to experience such beautiful emotions."
Bayern had more shots and more possession over the two legs. But just as in the previous rounds against Paris Saint Germain and Juventus, the defending champions came through rough patches within games to progress.
"Success tastes better when achieved through suffering," Zidane said. "In football, you cannot achieve anything any other way. More than being something about this team, it is this club. Its history comes from way back, and we keep writing it.
"As many have before, now it is our turn, and we are happy. Madrid never gives up, even more in difficulties, as we had many difficulties today against a good rival.
"But we always believe in what we are doing, and we achieve things believing it is possible and fighting for it."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan