Champions League: Real Madrid edges past Liverpool

Story highlights

Real Madrid qualifies for last-16 of Champions League

Karim Benzema scores only goal against Liverpool

Andrea Pirlo scores on 100th Champions League appearance

Borussia Dortmund qualify for knockout phase

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CNN  — 

No team has ever retained the Champions League title since the competition was revamped in 1992 – but perhaps, finally, this will be the year.

Karim Benzema ensured Real Madrid’s place in the last-16 by firing his side to a 1-0 win over Liverpool to make it four wins from four.

The France international netted a 27th minute winner after Real was made to work hard against a much-changed visiting side.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who wasted a number of opportunities, was left frustrated after failing to overturn Raul’s Champions League goals record.

Ronaldo remains on 70, one behind Raul, while his chief rival, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, plays tomorrow.

Messi, who has 69, faces Ajax in Amsterdam on Wednesday and could leapfrog the Portugal star.

Real’s 12th successive victory was more labored than most would have expected given the side’s previous encounter.

A fortnight ago, Real rolled into Anfield, a venue where it had never managed a victory, and blew LIverpool away within first 41 minutes of the contest.

Led by Ronaldo, Real scored three times in the first half before playing out the remainder of the contest in second gear.

Since then, Real has continued its fine form, defeating Barcelona in the Clasico and extending its winning streak to 11 games in succession.

Its fortunes could scarcely be any more different to those of Liverpool, a club whose season is already in danger of unraveling.

Since the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Liverpool, which finished second in the Premier League last season, has endured a dismal period in which the success of last year appears nothing but a distant memory.

Defeat by Newcastle last weekend left Liverpool 12 points behind leader Chelsea after just 10 games with the pair set to meet at Anfield on Saturday.

Brendan Rodgers, the manager, has come in for criticism with a number of his preseason signings failing to impress.

One of those, Mario Balotelli, has been heavily criticized, unfairly for the most part, though his failure to score a Premier League goal in any of his eight appearances has raised concern.

At the Bernabeu, where Real had not tasted defeat in its previous 19 Champions League matches, Liverpool stepped out as heavy underdogs.

Rodgers, wary of the importance of Sunday’s clash with Chelsea, omitted several of his regulars from the starting line-up.

Steven Gerrard, the long-serving captain and undisputed leader, was left on the bench alongside the stellar talent of Raheem Sterling and the aforementioned Balotelli.

For a club such as Liverpool, a five-time champion and one of the proudest and most distinguished clubs in European football, this was some statement.

For four years Liverpool had sought to be part of this elite competition and yet, at the home of arguably Europe’s greatest club, it named a team which appeared something of a gamble.

Kolo Toure, 33, was recalled in central defense, while Fabio Borini, the striker who came close to leaving Liverpool in August, started the contest in attack.

For Real, boasting its full array of ‘Galacticos’, this was a game which was supposed to be a mere procession.

Just three minutes had elapsed before Simon Mignolet, the Liverpool goalkeeper, was called into action, pushing away James Rodriguez’s fine effort which threatened to sail into the far corner.

The Belgium international, who has been prone to mistakes on a number of occasions this season, then denied Ronaldo as the home team began to find its rhythm.

Liverpool, without so many first team regulars, may have been expected to fold meekly and yet, for the opening 20 minutes at least, it showed the kind of energy which has seldom been seen so far this season.

But there was nothing it could do when Real did eventually take the lead through the prolific Benzema.

The France international, whose brace at Anfield put Liverpool to the sword a fortnight ago, found space at the far post and expertly tucked home Marcelo’s pinpoint cross.

Both Benzema and Ronaldo squandered further opportunities before the interval as Liverpool somehow managed to remain in contention.

The second half followed a similar pattern with Real dominating possession, though it seldom managed to find a way past a solid Liverpool defense.

Benzema flashed an effort wide of the far post and Ronaldo’s free kick stung the palms of Mignolet, but Liverpool coped admirably.

Adam Lallana’s drive, which flashed wide of the far post, ensured Real couldn’t rest on its laurels, though the visiting side barely registered as an attacking force.

Gareth Bale, a 62nd substitute, crashed an effort against the crossbar, but Real held out comfortably to book its place in the last-16.

While Real is through to the next stage, Liverpool will probably need to win its final two games against Swiss side Basel and Bulgarian team Ludogorets to qualify.

“We had the courage to play and I’m very proud of the team tonight,” Rodgers told ITV. “We showed wonderful composure.

“I knew what I was doing. I knew what the team would be tonight. We are disappointed with the result but there are many positives tonight. Some of the young players did very well.

“There’s every chance of us qualifying still. We always thought it would come down to the last game and it is in our hands.”

Liverpool has three points from its four matches and has not scored in the competition since the opening round.

Basel, which overcame Ludogorets of Bulgaria 4-0, sits three points ahead of Liverpool and has already beaten the Premier League side in the competition this season.

Dortmund cruise

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund booked its place in the next round with a 4-1 win over Galatasaray.

But Arsenal will have to wait after somehow managing to throw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Anderlecht.

Mikel Arteta’s penalty and Alexis Sanchez’s strike gave Arsenal a halftime lead before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added a third after 58 minutes.

The home side looked certain to claim its place in the next round but perhaps it had not expected what was to follow.

Anthony Vanden Borre netted a 61st minute penalty before adding a second soon after.

And in the final minute of the contest, Aleksandar Mitrovic stunned those inside Emirates Stadium by plundering a dramatic equalizer.

“We had some bad luck, the first goal was offside but we had a lack of concentration and thought the game was won,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told Sky Sports.

“Overall we were poor defensively from the first to the last minute. At 3-2 you have to secure yourself and we were not cautious enough. It was very poor defending.

“Am I angry or disappointed? Both.”

Andrea Pirlo scored a stunning free kick as Juventus secured a 3-2 victory over Olympiakos.

Pirlo, making his 100th Champions League appearance, opened the scoring in Turin with Paul Pogba netting a 66th minute winner.

“It was a very important game for us tonight, we had to win and we did it,” Pogba told Uefa.com. “I am happy with my goal, but I am happier for the result.”

In the night’s other games, Atletico Madrid won 2-0 at Malmo, Benfica defeated Monaco 1-0 and Bayer Leverkusen claimed an impressive 2-1 victory at Zenit Saint Petersburg.