Benzema hat trick as Madrid makes winning return to Bernabeu

MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid rallied to avoid disappointing results in their milestone matches in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Madrid had to twice come from behind before it comfortably beat Celta Vigo 5-2 in its return to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium after more than 18 months, while Atlético needed two late goals to beat Espanyol 2-1 in Antoine Griezmann’s first game back since a stint with Barcelona.

Karim Benzema scored a hat trick and Vinícius Júnior and debutant Eduardo Camavinga netted a goal each as Madrid returned to the Bernabéu 560 days after it was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and a massive renovation project.

“It was a special night for us,” Benzema said. “I always say that we need the support of the fans and today they gave all they had to help us again.”

The remodeling of the Bernabéu is not expected to finish until 2022 but the stadium reopened to a limited crowd of 19,874 in the first match at the venue since March 1, 2020, when Madrid defeated Barcelona 2-0 with Zinedine Zidane still as its coach.

The seating areas that are still not available to the public, mostly in the lower sections of the stadium, were blocked off and covered up, and there was a lot of construction work still visible outside the venue. The huge structures that will hold the stadium’s new retractable roof are already in position.

Madrid took advantage of the prohibition on spectators in stadiums because of the pandemic to accelerate the construction work at the Bernabéu while it played its home matches at the small Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in the club’s training complex. It played three straight away matches in the first three rounds this season to get the venue ready for crowds again.

On the field, it was Celta that opened the scoring with Santi Mina finding the net from inside the area after a defensive mistake by Madrid only four minutes into the match.

Benzema equalized with a shot from inside the area after a pass by Federico Valverde, but Celta retook the lead in a breakaway in the 31st with Franco Cervi finding the net from close range.

Benzema had a goal disallowed for offside in the 39th but equalized again with a header at the start of the second half. Vinícius Júnior scored the go-ahead goal in a breakaway in the 54th and Camavinga — making his debut off the bench after being signed at the transfer deadline — added to the lead from close range in the 72nd.

Benzema closed the scoring by converting a late penalty kick prompted by a nice move by Vinícius Júnior inside the area.

The victory left Madrid at the top of the standings with 10 points from four matches, tied with Valencia and Atlético.

The match was postponed from Saturday to give more time to rest for players from national teams that participated in South American World Cup qualifiers.

ATLÉTICO RALLIES LATE

Thomas Lemar scored deep into stoppage time to give Atlético the win at Espanyol in Griezmann’s first match back on loan from Barcelona.

The France forward had a lackluster performance, being substituted early in the second half by João Félix, who hadn’t played this season because of injury.

Raúl de Tomás put the hosts ahead with a header in the 40th but Yannick Carrasco equalized in the 79th and Lemar got the winner with a shot from inside the area in the ninth minute of injury time after an assist by Carrasco. The ball found the net after deflecting off the goalkeeper’s hand and the crossbar.

The match had 10 minutes of stoppage time after it was interrupted for a water break along with a couple of video reviews.

Griezmann is back with Atlético on a one-year loan from Barcelona, where he never met the high expectations of his 2019 transfer from Atlético for 120 million euros ($142 million). He had played five seasons under Atlético coach Diego Simeone before that.

OTHER RESULTS

Valencia conceded early but recovered to win 4-1 at Osasuna for its second win in a row.

Real Sociedad picked up its third consecutive victory with a 2-0 win at Cádiz thanks to late goals by Mikel Oyarzabal.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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