Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 20 News List

LFP: Benzema brace puts pressure on Barcelona

AFP and Reuters, PARIS and MADRID

Frenchman Karim Benzema scored in his third consecutive game as Real Madrid beat Hercules 2-0 to move within four points of leaders Barcelona on Saturday.

Benzema has had his fair share of criticism from coach Jose Mourinho this season, but he has hit form in recent weeks and had a good understanding in attack alongside Emmanuel Adebayor against Hercules. With Real facing an important Champions League match against Lyon in mid-week, Mourinho held in reserve Pepe, Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo, but second-from--bottom Hercules failed to take advantage and caused little danger.

Benzema slotted home an Alvaro Arbeloa pass midway through the first half and then struck again after the break.

“We are used to looking at Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics, but Benzema has now scored 19 goals [in all competitions], which is an important quantity,” Real director general Jorge Valdano told Spanish television. “These numbers are proof of how good he is. He is going to give us a lot to be happy about in the future.”

Earlier, struggling Almeria snatched a point against Atletico Madrid with substitute Henok Goitom heading home to equalize in a 2-2 draw.

Almeria will be happy with the point after twice coming from behind, but they remain in the bottom three, while Atletico will go home knowing that poor defending cost them a win in their battle for a European place.

Sergio Aguero put Atletico ahead after latching onto a ball over the defense, but Albert Crusat drew Almeria level. Aguero looked to have given Atletico the win when he struck a shot into the corner from the edge of the area, but Almeria again responded with Goitom powering a Jose Ortiz cross past the outstretched Atletico ’keeper.

The battle for a Europa League place has opened up with Espanyol having lost six out of their last seven games, and Athletic Bilbao had lost their previous four until they beat Sevilla.

Atletico have now moved up to seventh, while above them, Espanyol take on Deportivo La Coruna and Athletic Bilbao play Getafe.

In Saturday’s late match, third-placed Valencia’s midweek exit from the Champions League appeared to have taken its toll as Unai Emery’s side slumped to a 4-0 defeat at struggling Real Zaragoza.

Jiri Jarosik, Ander Herrera and two penalties from Gabi sank the visitors, who finished with 10 men, to leave them on 54 points, 16 short of Real.

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