Karim Benzema scored a second-half hat-trick to lift Real Madrid past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Round of 16.

“We wanted to see this stadium like the fans were today, we needed them, the win is for them, it was very difficult, we pushed until the end and we deserved to go through,” Benzema said in an interview after the game.

With the 3-1 win today, Real Madrid has eliminated PSG and advances past the Round of 16 and will face Liverpool, who defeat Inter Milan 2-1 on aggregate.

Karim Benzema Saves the Day

Kylian Mbappe scored the game’s only goal in the first leg and gave PSG a 1-0 lead on aggregate heading into Wednesday’s match; once again, Mbappe broke the deadlock in the 39th minute with a near-post finish from just inside the 18-yard box after freeing himself with a bursting run down the left side.

Madrid looked poised for an early exit in a competition that they have successfully conquered more times than any other club in Europe when the sides went in for halftime. 

After the 15-minute break, however, it became clear that Madrid was not going to leave quietly in front of their home Bernabéu fans.

Karim Benzema scored his team’s first goal of the matchup in the 61st minute after he pressed PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and ultimately forced him into making an errant pass, one that fell to Vinícius Júnior and was swiftly returned to Benzema for him to slot into the net.

Benzema’s second came 15 minutes later after Luka Modric found him with a splitting ball in the PSG box, leaving Benzema one-on-one with Donnarumma from a tight angle. The ball took a deflection off a recovering PSG defender but still found its way into the net and tied the match on aggregate.

Because of the new absence of away goal rules, PSG was still going to have to try to win the game instead of sitting back and defending with 11 men behind the ball. Benzema did not grant them the chance, however, as he finished an outside-of-the-boot strike off of a Donnarumma rebound less than 30 seconds after the restart. The Spanish league leaders defended well for the rest of the game, notably in absence of a press from the Parisians, and secured a spot in the quarterfinals.

Real Madrid Advances

Real Madrid faces a tough task with their upcoming tie against Liverpool, currently second place and just behind Manchester City in the English Premier League. The Reds play a high defensive line and have overwhelming pace in attack, which will test a Madrid defense that was frequently stretched by Mbappe on the counterattack. 

The Round of 16 elimination was a massive failure for a PSG team that was the odds-on favorite to win the entire competition during the offseason. The trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Kylian Mbappe, while lethal on paper, was unable to cause any consistent trouble for Madrid and is at risk of becoming one of, if not the, biggest “what if?” in football history if they cannot find success in the competition— and with Mbappe poised for an exit to Madrid this summer, the odds do not look good.

Benzema’s hat-trick served as a reminder that he is one of the most underrated players of his generation and has a claim as being a top-10 striker of all time, if not even higher. 

Real Madrid’s next match will be a domestic bout with 16th-place Mallorca on Monday.