MADRID ( Associated Press) — The last time Karim Benzema was in the Champions League final, he played supporting Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was another forward in Real Madrid’s squad that attracted the most attention from Ronaldo.
It will be very different when Benzema takes the field in the final against Liverpool in suburban Paris later this week.
Benzema has gone from a sidekick to Ronaldo as Madrid’s most important player, and on Saturday he could end his best season with a fifth Champions League title.
A win would allow Ronaldo to win the most Champions League trophies he – and many other Madrid players – do. This would leave the France striker in a commanding position to win the Ballon d’Or award for player of the year.
“I’m very proud,” Benzema said. It has been a very good season for me in terms of goals, assists and trophies and I am really happy.
Benzema scored 44 goals in 45 appearances with his club this season, and equaled Madrid great Ral González as the club’s second-highest scorer with 323 goals, behind Ronaldo’s 451.
Since the departure of the Portugal star in 2018, Benzema has been Madrid’s leading scorer of the season. Ronaldo had been in that role for the past nine years.
“I don’t know where I stand in club history, we’ll have to wait for my career to end to find out,” said Benzema, 34.
There is no doubt that it has been a historic year for the striker, who has already helped Madrid win the Spanish League and the Spanish Super Cup. He was the leading scorer in the Spanish League with 27 goals and in the Champions League with 15 goals in 11 matches.
Benzema was crucial for Madrid in their race to the European final, scoring 10 goals in the knockout rounds alone, including a hat-trick against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 and Chelsea in the quarter-finals. He also scored the decisive extra time goal which allowed Madrid to eliminate Manchester City in the second leg of the semi-finals.
He will reach Saturday’s final after scoring 20 goals in his last 16 appearances in all competitions.
Benzema said he would not feel any extra pressure this season because of his success.
“The only pressure I have will be to wait to get out on the field,” he said. “Once I leave it disappears. The preparation is the same. We have to enjoy ourselves and we want to please the fans. We are in good shape, focused, for the rest of the week.” We are preparing till Saturday. There is no pressure, we have to enjoy it.”
Other players who could equal Ronaldo’s five Champions League titles are Gareth Bale, Dani Carvajal, Francisco Isco, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Nacho Fernandez. They were all in the squad that won three consecutive European titles from 2016-18.
Benzema played a major role in the 2018 final against Liverpool, scoring early in the second half of their 3-1 win in Kyiv.
He hopes that he can come again this time.
“They haven’t changed much for the last four or five years,” Benzema said. “We have to focus on our game,” he said. We eliminated PSG, Chelsea and City, who were the favourites. We are full of confidence to go to Paris. Anything can happen in the final.”
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