Real Madrid reached the Champions League last 16 with a last-gasp 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw on Tuesday.
Antonio Rudiger scored a brave header deep in stoppage time to equalise and earn the reigning champions passage to the knock-out rounds.
The Ukrainian side, playing their home matches in Poland because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, impressed and took the lead through Oleksandr Zubkov early in the second half.
It seemed like Madrid were poised to lose their first match of the season across all competitions, but Rudiger headed home from Toni Kroos’s cross in the fifth minute of five added on, colliding heads with goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin in the process.
Rudiger left the pitch covered in blood, and the Shakhtar goalkeeper had to see out the final seconds with a bandage wrapped round his head.
“He’s got quite a long cut on his forehead, there’s a lot of blood, but he’s doing well,” coach Carlo Ancelotti told Movistar. “He wanted to go back on to the pitch, but we realised he was injured. I don’t think it’s too serious.
“We did not play well, but this team never gives up. We are in the last 16, on a night that looked bad. That’s a good thing. (But) as a team it was not an ideal night.”
Madrid now lead Group F on 10 points, ahead of RB Leipzig on six, after they beat Celtic 2-0 in Scotland, while Shakhtar are third on five.
Ancelotti had rested Vinicius Junior, among others, keeping an eye on Sunday’s Clasico against bitter rivals Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, Madrid talisman Benzema started the game after missing the 1-0 win over Getafe on Saturday, and was the first to test Trubin with a blast straight at the goalkeeper.
The Ukrainian made several brilliant saves at the Santiago Bernabeu in a 2-1 defeat last week, but had a much quieter opening half on this occasion.
Trubin made another stop to deny Benzema from a tight angle, but had little else to do as Los Blancos rarely clicked in attack. Belgian playmaker Hazard, given a rare start in attacking midfield, was invisible.
“Eden, like Karim, had difficulties, the lines were hard to break through, they didn’t have much chance to get between them,” Ancelotti told a press conference.
“We played very badly today, but even when things don’t go well, we don’t give up and we fight to the end. And we qualified for the next round, because only those who are in the next round can win the Champions League.”
– Desperation –
Ancelotti reacted to the Shakhtar goal by taking off Hazard and Aurelien Tchouameni and threw on Vinicius and Luka Modric.
Still, the Ukrainian side, filled with youth players after many senior squad members departed because of the war, were tireless.
Pouring forward, Zubkov played in Lassina Traore, who was first denied by Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, and then the crossbar, coming inches from the second goal.
Lunin was forced into another save by the electric Zubkov from distance and Ancelotti threw on more stars from the bench, with David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga and Marco Asensio entering the fray.
Vinicius should have equalised with three minutes remaining but headed well over the crossbar from close range, perhaps put off by defender Valeriy Bondar flinging himself in front to try and block the Brazilian.
It was also another frustrating night in front of goal for Benzema, who has not netted in three appearances since returning from a thigh injury and drifted out of the game, despite staying on for the full 90 minutes.
With the clock ticking down it looked like Madrid’s unbeaten streak was up, but Rudiger’s bravery at the last meant they have not tasted defeat in 13 matches, and will be in the last 16 of the Champions League, come February 2023.
“Like always, we kept going until the last minute and I think we deserved it,” said Toni Kroos. “We weren’t as good as last week, we gave away the ball a lot. That makes it a hard game, especially in the Champions League. It’s a very important point, if you look at the group table.
“We know how strong Antonio is in the box. I saw (his injury), I’ve seen nicer things in my life — I hope he’s better as soon as possible.”