Kylian Mbappe, arguably the biggest talent in world football right now, had done it again for Paris St-Germain, scoring against Real Madrid to put the French side 2-0 up on aggregate and in command of their Champions League last-16 second leg.
The striker stunned the visitors with a 17-minute hat-trick to turn the tie on its head and send Real into the quarter-finals.
It keeps the Champions League’s most successful team on course for a record 14th title and once again underlined Benzema’s status as one of the best – but also underrated – strikers in the world
Benzema is historic’ read the headline of one newspaper following the France international’s stunning second-half display at the Bernabeu.
His second and third goals came in the space of just 106 seconds, giving PSG’s players no time to process how they had gone from a commanding position to once again exiting the Champions League at the knockout stage.
At the age of 34 years and 80 days, Benzema became the oldest player to score a Champions League hat-trick, while his three goals also took him on to 309 in total for Real, moving above the legendary Alfredo di Stefano to third on the all-time top scorer list for the Spanish giants.
While Mbappe, Erling Braut Haaland at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski have, at one time or another this season, been talked about as the best striker in the world for their goalscoring exploits, Benzema goes somewhat under the radar despite his own phenomenal record.
In total he has scored 28 goals in 33 games this season while providing 12 assists.I think Karim Benzema feels like he is a bit undervalued at Real Madrid and he uses that as his motivation in games,” England and Everton forward Izzy Christiansen said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
His statistics are up there with other strikers in the Champions League over the years.”
Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand added on BT Sport: “We were all salivating over Kylian Mbappe – the most devastating player at the moment – but in the second half Karim Benzema comes out and says ‘no, no, no I’m not done yet!’ He bangs in a hat-trick.
“Benzema is the most complete number nine for me. He does every part of the game fantastically well.”
The headlines may not be about Mbappe but the PSG player more than did his bit in the game.
His goal should have been enough to see his side through but for the visitors’ panicky defence, while he also forced a couple of good saves out of Thibaut Courtois before opening the scoring.
There is, of course, significant speculation about the France international’s future, with his most likely destination in the summer seemingly the venue of Wednesday’s game.
Mbappe did appear to take a noticeably long time admiring his surroundings after first taking to the pitch in the hours before kick-off.
With Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi, PSG appear to have the most formidable forward line in world football, but that could change if Mbappe joins Benzema at Real Madrid.
“Since Cristiano Ronaldo left I know Karim Benzema has stepped up, but I think he [Mbappe] will just suit Real Madrid,” former Leeds and Real Madrid defender Jonathan Woodgate said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I expect the fans to give him an incredible welcome. He looks destined for it. The pace of Kylian Mbappe would frighten any defender including Virgil van Dijk. He is that quick.”
Whatever the future may hold for Mbappe and Benzema, the latter is focused only on bringing success for Real Madrid this season and proving they still deserve to be considered one of the biggest clubs in world football.
Real Madrid is alive and we showed how we can win against anyone,” Benzema said.
“The comeback came due to a matter of mental strength. I’m really honoured to be part of this legendary club, and now we move forward.”