Karim Benzema scored his first hat-trick in nearly three years as Real Madrid ended their Champions League Group G campaign unbeaten, with a 4-0 win over Auxerre.
Already assured of top spot, stand-in Madrid coach Aitor Karanka insisted his side would take the game as seriously as any other and so it proved. Benzema headed the hosts ahead in the 12th minute and, following Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth Champions League goal of the season soon after the restart, the France striker resumed centre stage. He made the points safe before rounding off his hat-trick in some style just before the final whistle.
Ultimately the result made no difference to Auxerre as Ajax’s victory over AC Milan sealed third spot for the Dutch side. The visitors’ hopes, though, looked slender from the moment Benzema broke the deadlock with Madrid’s 300th UEFA Champions League goal. Ronaldo did the damage, his whipped cross from the left finding a swooping Benzema a metre out. It could have been worse had the Portuguese international found the net instead of nodding narrowly wide soon after.
Undeterred, Jean Fernandez’s side stuck to their counterattacking plan and when the pacy Roy Contout won a free-kick on the right, Benoît Pedretti picked out Jean-Pascal Mignot whose downward header was deflected away by Jerzy Dudek. It was an eventful night for the stand-in goalkeeper who, before expertly tipping Dennis Oliech’s low drive away from danger, injured his jaw in a collision with Contout. He was replaced by debutant Antonio Adán.
Injuries and suspensions had deprived the nine-time European Champion Clubs’ Cup winners of several first-team regulars – not to mention coach José Mourinho – yet it was two familiar faces who combined to set up the side’s second four minutes after the restart. Marcelo fed the onrushing Ronaldo who blasted past Olivier Sorin and, after Alain Traoré fired just wide, the news got worse for the visitors: Ajax were ahead at San Siro.
Benzema’s second of the night extinguished all hope, the 22-year-old lashing past Sorin after being released by Lassana Diarra in the 72nd minute. He saved the best until last, however, intercepting the Auxerre goalkeeper’s pass near the byline and dispatching a chip with an ease that belied the acute angle.