NICOSIA, Cyprus, March 28 – A Karim Benzema double helped nine-time winners Real Madrid to a 3-0 away win over Cypriot surprise package APOEL in their Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash here on Tuesday.
APOEL put up a stubborn rearguard action in a contest they were as expected largely outplayed by their illustrious and more famous opponents.
It took three goals in the final 15 minutes to seal victory and all but likely a berth in the semi-finals barring a miracle.
The Spanish millionaires left it late against the unheralded Cypriot minnows who failed to muster a shot on target.
Afterwards APOEL’s Serb coach Ivan Jovanovic said he had no complaints about the outcome.
“I think the scoreline is justified. We managed to contain Real up to a point but in the second half they applied more pressure and the goal made it easier for them.
“Certainly Real are in the semi-finals of the Champions League and I personally believe they will reach the final and I hope they win the trophy,” he added.
He said meeting Real in the quarter finals was an ‘honour’ and the pinnacle of his team’s success in the competition.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho paid tribute to the Cypriots and Jovanovic saying his side had to be on top form to win this encounter.
“What they have done is fantastic we had to play at our best to win, they defended well and APOEL deserve our respect,” Mourinho told reporters.
He applauded APOEL’s players after the whistle because they deserved it as the team of the tournament.
“APOEL reaching the quarter finals makes them the most important team of this competition no matter who wins the trophy.”
It seemed only a matter of time before Real would stamp their superiority over the Cypriots but the killer blow didn’t come until the 74th minute when Benzema headed in a delightful cross from substitute Kaka.
And Kaka put the game — and maybe the tie — beyond doubt when he slotted in from close range after fellow Brazilian and substitute Marcelo raced into the box and found him unmarked.
Benzema got his second on a quick counter scoring from close range from a Mesut Ozil cross on 90 minutes.
Real could have scored a hatful but they spurned a series of golden opportunities.
Miss of the game and maybe this Champions League saw Benzema put the ball over the bar from two yards out with an open goal at his mercy.
He was set up perfectly by a cross from Nuri Sahin following some trademark trickery from Cristiano Ronaldo on 33 minutes.
And the Cypriot defence found it hard to cope with the Portuguese superstar who had several attempts on goal without finding that killer touch that has seen him score a 100 goals for Real in record time.
His best chance of the first half saw him flash a shot wide of the far post just before the interval.
Keeper Dionisis Chiotis also had to be on his toes to save smartly from an Oezil volley just inside the box after 12 minutes.
It summed up a first 45 minutes where Real had 70 percent of the possession and eleven attempts on goal while APOEL had none.
Few pundits gave APOEL any chance of surviving a group with Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk but they topped it to become the first Cypriot side to progress to last 16.
The team then went one better in ousting Lyon 4-3 on penalties after it being 1-1 on aggregate — making them the only team in the last eight never to have reached this stage before.
APOEL’s famed “orange” fans created a crackling atmosphere — in the 23,000 capacity GSP stadium — to spur the team on during this David-and Goliath confrontation.
The Cypriots have punched above their weight in this competition but this proved a step too far and Mourinho has never lost at this stage of the competition.
The matched was expected to be the most watched TV sporting event in the island’s sporting history as APOEL tried to achieve the impossible and beat the competition’s record winners.