Karim Benzema returned to his old club in goalscoring fashion tonight as Real Madrid picked up what could be a crucial away goal in the Stade Gerland in Lyon, as the French and Spanish giants fought out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League ’round of 16′.
Benzema started on the bench against his first professional side as Real manager Jose Mourinho went with Emanuel Adebayor as the central forward, ably assisted by the invention of Mesut Ozil and the endeavour of Angel di Maria. In the only other notable difference in what might be termed the ‘usual’ Real Madrid starting eleven, Alvaro Arbeloa played at left-back instead of Marcelo as Mourinho sought to keep a steady ship at the back.
For their part, Lyon went with Bafetimbi Gomis as their spearhead; Yoann Gourcuff and Cesar Delgado the men charged with supporting him in attack.
The two clubs clashed at the same stage last season and on that occasion the French side were triumphant over the two legs, meaning Real Madrid have now gone six consecutive seasons without making it past the first knock-out round of the Champions League.
During a feisty and eventful opening period, the best chance fell for Lyon forward Gomis, who had a clear sight on goal after Spanish stopper Iker Casillas spilled a fairly routine catch from a cross; however he recovered well to make enough of a save to divert the dreadlocked striker’s effort over his crossbar.
Lyon had the better of much of the first half but Real did work their way back into the contest and di Maria tested Lyon’s ‘keeper, Hugo Lloris, with a long range effort before Lloris had to be alert to divert a bouncing free kick away from goal.
The away side continued after the break as they had ended the first and were unlucky not to take a lead shortly after the interval as first the crossbar and then the post denied them in the space of five minutes, the latter effort a looping header from Sergio Ramos. Real would not be denied an opener though, and after Benzema made his belated entrance as substitute the difference in the potency of his team’s attack was immediately clear.
After first battling to win possession near the touchline, he received the ball back from Ozil and twisted his way past two challenges inside the Lyon penalty area, before steering the ball somewhat fortunately through Lloris’ legs and beyond the despairing lunge of Cris on the goal line. Though his team mates celebrated the goal with vigour, Benzema himself made no grand gesture, having been loyally supported by the fans of Lyon for several seasons – and indeed he had received a rousing reception from them not two minutes earlier as he entered the pitch.
Lyon were forced to come out of their shells more as they searched for an equaliser and added both Jimmy Briand and Miralem Pjanic to their attack in an attempt to eke out the craftsmanship to unlock the stubborn Madrid defence. However they could have fallen a second goal behind had either the referee or any of his many assistants spotted a blatant handball inside their area; Mourinho was left fuming on the touchline as all failed to see the elbow of a Lyon player block a free-kick midway through the second half.
The home side continued to press in the latter stages of the game and though they were susceptible to the counter attack, they got their reward in the end as Cris nodded a free kick back across goal to the unmarked Gomis. As the Real defence appealed in vain for a non existent offside, the French forward guided the ball past Casillas to net the equaliser with just seven minutes left on the clock.
Both sides had half chances to win it late on, but in the end the draw was probably a fair result after each side had the better of one 45 minute period.
With an away goal in the bag and the home tie to come – and Real Madrid manager Mourinho having recently passed the nine year milestone of his last career home defeat – the Spanish side will be heavy favourites to progress at long last to the quarter finals, but with Lyon having accomplished feat of knocking them out at the Santiago Bernabeu only a year ago – and with the possible return of main striker Lisandro Lopez to come for the second leg – the Spanish side should take nothing for granted.