Real Madrid s French forward Karim Benzema runs with the ball during the Spanish league football match between Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid on February 26, 2022. AFP
Benzema scored late from an assist by Vinicius to snatch Real Madrid a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, helping to increase the gap over second-place Sevilla to nine points.
Benzema and Vinicius finally unlocked Rayo's defense in the 83rd minute when a passing exchange inside a packed area between the strike partners left the France striker clear to score the winner.
``(Benzema and Vinicius) have been playing together for four years and, being the great players they are, they understand one another to perfection on the field,'' said Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made two big saves to maintain the stalemate until Benzema broke through.
Played clear by Benzema's short throughball, Vinicius generously squared the ball back to the heart of the area after having drawn goalkeeper Luka Zidane off his line. Benzema only had to tap in the ball.
It was Benzema's league-leading 19th goal. He has scored 26 goals in 31 games across all competitions for his club this campaign. Vinicius, who is enjoying a breakout campaign at age 21, has added 13 league goals for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Sevilla faces an always-tough derby with third-place Real Betis on Sunday, just six weeks after their Copa del Rey clash was marred by a Betis fan hitting a Sevilla player in the head with a piece of PVC.
On Thursday, Rayo visits Betis aiming to overturn a 2-1 loss in the return leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Madrid, meanwhile, will play Real Sociedad next weekend before it hosts Paris Saint-Germain on March 9 needing to come back from a 1-0 defeat in their Champions League round-of-16 tie.
ANOTHER UNAL BRACE
Playing with 10 men for an hour, Getafe rallied for a 2-2 draw at home with Alaves in a comeback led by Enes Unal's brace that included an astounding strike from near the touchline.
After Jorge Cuenca was shown a direct red for a dangerous tackle, Alaves twice went ahead with goals by Gonzalo Escalante and Edgar Mendez.
Each time Unal brought the hosts back, first with a header and then with a superb strike from a tight angle on the right flank. His scorcher screamed over goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco and landed just inside the post in the 72nd.
``That goal goes in once every 50 times, and he pulled it off,'' Escalante said about Unal's second goal. ``It was a great goal and we have to congratulate him for it.''
Unal has become the league's hottest scorer with braces in three of his last four matches. After going without a goal in his first 10 games of the season, the 24-year-old Turkey striker has found the net 13 times in 15 appearances. His career high for an entire season was eight goals in 2019-20.
Valencia's Gabriel Paulista struck an early goal from well outside the area to help beat Mallorca 1-0 in the defender's first match after being sidelined for four months due to a right hamstring injury.
Mallorca coach Luis Garcia was sent off in the final minutes for protesting.
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