Madrid: Real Madrid warmed up for their Champions League semi-final first-leg with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu.
After a slow opening by the hosts they went ahead just before half-time when Mesut Ozil latched onto Karim Benzema’s through ball to slot home at the near post.
Benzema then made it two in similar fashion as he took advantage of Cristiano Ronaldo’s pass to beat Betis keeper Adrian, but Jorge Molina’s penalty halved the deficit for the visitors after Ruben Castro had been brought down by Nacho.
Castro then came within inches of stealing a draw for Betis as he hit the bar two minutes from time before Ozil settled Madrid’s nerves with a third goal in stoppage time.
However, there was some bad news for Madrid on the injury front as both Marcelo and Luka Modric had to be replaced due to muscular injuries, putting their participation in Germany in midweek in some doubt.
And defender Pepe recognised the absence of the Brazilian and Croatian internationals could be a big blow for the nine-time European champions.
“It is a shame as they are very important players for us, but we have a very big squad with great players and we always want to win,” he told Canal Plus.
The Portuguese also accepted that the lack of match practice for some of those on show for Madrid had taken its toll towards the end of the game.
“After the goal they pressed a bit more and we had a lot of people that hadn’t played for a while so it is normal you notice that at the end.
“We now need to think about Borussia. It is very important. We are playing for all the work we have done throughout the year and then we have the derby. We need to be well-prepared for these games.”
Jose Mourinho had sprung a surprise in his starting line-up by handing a debut to Brazilian midfielder Carlos Henrique Casemiro as he made a raft of changes with Wednesday’s match in mind.
And after a slow start, the game came to life towards half-time as both sides struck the woodwork.
Ronaldo was first to go close as he fired a left-footed shot from 25 yards off the post before Dorlan Pabon volleyed Benat’s cut-back off the top of the bar for the visitors.
The opening goal did arrive before the break though as a neat one-two between Benzema and Ozil freed the German inside the area to slot home his seventh league goal of the season.
Benzema then doubled his side’s advantage 12 minutes into the second period at the end of a typically rapid Madrid counter-attack as he raced onto Ronaldo’s pass to again beat Adrian at his near post.
However, Betis were handed a lifeline 22 minutes from time when Nacho chopped down Castro inside the area and Jorge Molina just sneaked his penalty past Diego Lopez despite the keeper getting a hand to it.
The goal infused Betis with belief and Castro very nearly snatched a point two minutes from the end as he latched onto Ricardo Carvalho’s weak header back to Lopez only to see his effort come back off the bar and Raul Albiol clear Pabon’s follow-up shot off the line.
And having survived that scare Madrid went swiftly up the other end and sealed all three points as Ozil prodded home Callejon’s driven cross from barely a yard.