Benzema, Navas lead Real Madrid to 1-0 win over Granada

Madrid, Sep 20 (IANS/EFE) Karim Benzema’s goal early in the second half proved to be enough in Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory here over Granada, who put up a battle at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium but were unable to get the ball past Costa Rican net minder Keylor Navas.

The visitors’ goalkeeper, Andres Fernandez, was nearly as stingy on the other side of the field, meaning the game on Saturday was decided by the playmaking of Isco and Benzema, who headed home a perfectly placed pass from the Spanish midfielder in the 55th minute.

Granada refused to be intimidated by the Blancos, who had routed their two most recent opponents — Espanyol and Champions League rival Shakhtar Donetsk — by a combined score of 10-0 and were expected to trounce the Nazaries in similar fashion.

But rather than lie back and wait for chances to counter-attack, the Andalusian side aggressively pressured the ball, leading to some exciting end-to-end action in which the goalkeepers took centre stage.

In the first half, Fernandez denied Cristiano Ronaldo a one-on-one opportunity and also stymied Lucas Vasquez at point-blank range after failing to collect a free kick by the Portuguese super-striker.

Surprisingly, Navas also was put to the test by Granada, saving one shot off the foot of Nigerian forward Isaac Success and catching a break when an apparent goal by Moroccan striker Youssef El-Arabi was waived off.

Granada continued to apply pressure in the second half but it lacked the ability to finish, with Success squandering a golden opportunity when he tried to lob a ball over Navas but instead sending it into the stands.

Shortly afterward, Isco, who had a poor game otherwise, delivered a brilliant pass from the left side that found an unmarked Benzema, who headed the ball home just a few feet from the goal line.

A courageous Granada nearly got the equaliser shortly afterward, but Navas’ foot save on a clear opportunity for El-Arabi kept the visitors off the scoreboard.

The back-and-forth action continued throughout, with both sides threatening the opposing goal over the final 15 minutes to no avail.

With the win, Real Madrid temporarily moved into first place in La Liga with 11 points, one ahead of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

The Blancos have notched a league-best 11 goals through four matches and, thanks in large part to Navas, have not yet allowed a single score by the opposition.

Granada fell but should be encouraged by its performance against one of the world’s great soccer powerhouses.

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