Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - SPORTS -

Real Madrid boss Zine­dine Zi­dane hailed the im­pact of Karim Ben­zema af­ter his com­pa­triot lifted the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons from the early blow of con­ced­ing to beat Napoli 3-1 on Wed­nes­day.

Madrid are now on the brink of a sev­enth suc­ces­sive Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal as they aim to be­come the first team to re­tain the tro­phy in the Cham­pi­ons League era.

Lorenzo In­signe’s won­der strike from 40 yards af­ter just eight min­utes had given Napoli a shock lead at the Bernabeu.

How­ever, Zi­dane was re­warded for keep­ing faith in Ben­zema de­spite fierce crit­i­cism of late from the Span­ish press as he headed home his 51st Cham­pi­ons League goal to equalise be­fore se­cond-half strikes from Toni Kroos and Casemiro gave Madrid a com­mand­ing lead. “I am al­ways happy with him, said Zi­dane. “He needed that goal which lately he didin’t get, but I am happy not only for the goal but also for how he played gen­er­ally. He made the rest of the team play bet­ter and his move­ment is very good.

“The per­for­mances of Karim, Cris­tiano (Ron­aldo), James (Ro­driguez) they all made the rest of the team bet­ter.” Ben­zema’s goal also moved him ahead of com­pa­triot Thierry Henry as top French scorer of all-time in the Cham­pi­ons League proper.

“It was a great night. We all played well, not just me,” Ben­zema told Span­ish TV sta­tion MEGA. “I am very happy and proud of my work. There are a lot of sac­ri­fices, but now I feel good.

“I scored a goal and saw that the fans were with me which is very good for my con­fi­dence.” Napoli had chances to set up a mouth­wa­ter­ing se­cond leg on March 7 as Dries Mertens blazed over with the goal at his mercy and for­mer Madrid winger Jose Maria Calle­jon had a goal ruled out for off­side late on.

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