Benzema scores in final game with Madrid; Vinícius Júnior back with team after racial abuse
MADRID (AP) — Karim Benzema converted his penalty kick and received a standing ovation from fans before being substituted at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, bringing an end to his memorable career with Real Madrid on Sunday.
Benzema was replaced after scoring the 72nd-minute equalizer in Madrid's 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao in his final game with the Spanish powerhouse after 14 seasons. Madrid had announced earlier Sunday that the French striker would not return next season.
The last round of the Spanish league also saw Vinícius Júnior's return to action for the first time since he was racially abused in a league match against Valencia two weeks ago, as well as Valladolid’s relegation.
Vinícius hadn’t played in the last two Madrid games following the latest incident of racist insults targeted at him in Valencia on May 21, prompting a widespread reaction from Spanish authorities and the soccer world. The club had said he was sidelined with a minor knee problem.
The Brazil forward wasn't able to score, having a 79th-minute goal disallowed for offside.
Benzema did find the net in his farewell match.
He fired in a low shot from the spot, then celebrated by sending kisses to the crowd at the Bernabeu. He was immediately substituted by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, receiving a big ovation from the fans.
“I’ve coached one of the greatest players in the world and one of the best strikers,” Ancelotti said. “We can’t be pleased about his departure, but we have to respect his decision. He’s earned the right to choose and we all thank him for everything he’s done for this club. He’s been a legendary, unforgettable figure, and he’ll remain forever in the memory of this club.”
Benzema’s farewell came amid reports he will play in Saudi Arabia next season.
After the match, Madrid players threw Benzema up in the air a few times, as they did for the other players not returning next season — Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard and Mariano Díaz.
Still wearing the captain's armband, Benzema went near the stands and applauded the fans.
The result allowed Madrid to finish in second place ahead of Atletico Madrid, which drew 2-2 at Villarreal after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer.
“It was a pleasure to play with him,” Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said of Benzema. “He is an excellent player, a legend. It's a pity that he is leaving but we understand that he has the right to choose his destiny.”
The 35-year-old striker has been with Madrid since 2009. He helped the club win a record 25 titles, including five Champions Leagues, five Club World Cups and four Spanish leagues.
Benzema ended his career with Madrid with 354 goals — the second-most all-time — and 648 appearances, which is the fifth-most all-time.
Valladolid became the last team to be relegated after it was unable to get more than a 0-0 draw at home against Getafe.
A win would have been enough for the club owned by former Brazil striker Ronaldo, which was in the top flight after spending a year in the second division in 2021-22.
“There is not a lot to explain, we tried but couldn't score the goal that we needed,” Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip said. “It's a disappointment for the club, the fans and the entire city.”
Six teams had entered the final round fighting to avoid relegation — Valladolid, Celta Vigo, Almeria, Valencia, Getafe and Cadiz.
Almeria escaped thanks to an 87th-minute penalty kick converted by Adrián Embarba in a 3-3 draw at Espanyol, finishing just outside the relegation zone.
Valencia stayed safe after a 1-1 draw at Real Betis, while Celta Vigo survived after a 2-1 home win over champion Barcelona with a pair of goals by Gabri Veiga.
Barcelona ended the season on 88 points, 10 more than Madrid and 11 more than Atletico.
Espanyol and Elche had already been relegated.
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
In the fight for the final European place still available, Osasuna beat Girona 2-1 at home to finish seventh and grab a Europa Conference League spot.
Bilbao ended in eighth place, two points behind Osasuna. Mallorca won 3-0 against Rayo Vallecano to finish ninth, three points behind Osasuna.
Real Sociedad earned the final Champions League spot, while Villarreal and Betis will play in the Europa League.
Retiring Betis forward Joaquín Sánchez played in his 622nd game to tie the record for most league appearances that had been held by former Spain and Barcelona goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta.
The 41-year-old forward put an end to his career after 23 seasons, most of them with boyhood club Betis. He also played for Málaga, Valencia and Fiorentina in Italy.
Joaquín kissed the grass underneath him before being substituted in the 60th.
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