Copy of 2022-05-12T210510Z_569130848_UP1EI5C1MKJCF_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-SPAIN-MAD-LVT-REPORT-1652431293309
Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior celebrates scoring their fifth goal against Levante with Karim Benzema. Image Credit: REUTERS

Madrid: Karim Benzema continues to add his name to Real Madrid’s record books, scoring his 323rd goal on Thursday to draw level with Raul Gonzalez as the club’s second-highest scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Benzema netted in the first half of the team’s 6-0 rout of last-place Levante in the Spanish league, with Madrid having secured the title a few rounds ago.

The result sealed Levante’s relegation after five consecutive years in the first division.

Vinicius Junior, Benzema’s trusted attacking partner all season, scored a hat trick for Madrid as it continues to prepare for the Champions League final against Liverpool in Paris on May 28, when it will try to win a record-extending 14th European title.

451 Ronaldo goals

Benzema is now 128 goals shy of the 451 scored by Ronaldo, who played at the club until 2018. Raul, the coach of Madrid’s "B" squad, played for the club in the 1990s and 2000s.

Benzema’s close-range header in the 19th minute off a cross by Vinicius gave the French striker his league-leading 27th goal, which is nine better than any other player in the competition this season. He has scored more than a third of Madrid’s 79 league goals so far.

It was the 20th goal in the last 15 matches in all competitions for Benzema, who has been key in the team’s run to the Champions League final, scoring decisive goals in every knockout round of the European tournament - including two hat tricks.

He could have added another goal on Thursday but unselfishly fed Vinicius the ball for the team’s fifth after clearing the goalkeeper inside the area.

“The connection with Benzema has been very good all season long,” said Vinicius, who now is the league’s third-best scorer with 17 goals. “Karim has had a great season and hopefully he can finish it by winning the Ballon d’Or (award for best player).”

Vinicius had netted his first goal in the first half before closing the scoring in the final minutes for his maiden hat trick with Madrid. Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo scored their goals before halftime.

Benzema was replaced in the 75th along with Luka Modric, who set up three of Madrid’s goals.

League derby

Benzema, Modric, Mendy, Vinicius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had not started in the league derby against city rival Atletico Madrid on Sunday, a game Atletico won 1-0 at home.

Atletico did not give Madrid a guard of honor for the league champions at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but Levante’s players did on Thursday, lining up by the sideline and applauding Madrid’s players as they entered the field at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Valencia-based Levante was in the first division in 14 of the last 18 seasons.

“Unfortunately we were not up to the task this season,” Levante captain Jose Luis Morales said, amid tears. “We have to apologize and try to put this club back where it deserves next season.”