Madrid: Karim Benzema netted two identical headers to secure Real Madrid a place in the Champions League last 16 with a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday, easing the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane.
Record 13-time champions Madrid started the night in third place, at risk of failing to qualify from the group stage for the first time in their history and dropping into the Europa League, but delivered an assured performance at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium.
Madrid finished as group winners on 10 points, ahead of runners-up Gladbach on eight despite the defeat, as Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan drew 0-0 in the other Group B clash.
President Florentino Perez was spotted in the tunnel before the game and his presence seemed to focus Madrid minds, as they put on their best performance of the season in their most important game so far.
Makeshift right-back Lucas Vazquez curled in a cross and Benzema produced a fine header to break the deadlock after just nine minutes.
Madrid kept an iron grip on the game until Gladbach forward Alassane Plea broke free but dinked wide of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
Benzema doubled the lead with a clone of his first strike, nodding home from Rodrygo’s cross from the right in the 32nd minute.
Madrid came close to adding a third from the same avenue, with Vasquez crossing for the evergreen Luka Modric, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort onto the post.
The Croatian midfielder lashed home shortly afterwards but the strike was ruled out for an offside call against Raphael Varane in the build-up.
Madrid continued to dominate after the break, looking back to their best ahead of the weekend derby clash in La Liga with Atletico Madrid.
Sommer made a brilliant save to claw out a header from Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on his return from injury, with Benzema crashing the rebound against the crossbar.
Vazquez drilled an effort against the near post as Zidane’s rampant side coasted to victory, allowing the coach some breathing room after a troubled start to the season.