Real's Benzema pounces late to deny Atletico derby win

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - March 7, 2021 Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Susana Vera

MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema struck an 88th-minute equaliser to snatch a 1-1 draw at La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid on Sunday and keep his side in the title race.

Luis Suarez had put the hosts in charge in the 15th minute, producing an ice-cool finish to beat Thibaut Courtois after a lung-bursting run forward from his own half by midfielder Marcos Llorente.

The Uruguayan was denied a second goal later in the half by former Atletico keeper Courtois and early in the second period, while the Belgian also thwarted his compatriot Yannick Carrasco from point-blank range.

Benzema, who returned after missing Real's last three matches through injury, was the champions' focal point in attack and spurned three chances to score before equalising late on, playing a one-two with Casemiro to tap into the net.

An Atletico victory would have taken Diego Simeone's side eight points clear of their city rivals but Benzema's leveller means they lead third-placed Real by five points while Barcelona, in second, are three points behind.

Atletico can tighten their grip on top spot when they host Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, however.

Captain Koke rued the late equaliser after his side had bossed the game.

"We were superior to them but they can score against you at any moment," he told reporters.

"We brought fresh players on and tried to add to our lead but we were up against a great rival who have a lot of power up front.

"We have never said the title race is over and we know it's going to go down to the wire but we have to now focus on Wednesday, when we have a chance to pick up more points and our rivals do not."

Atletico coach Diego Simeone welcomed back England defender Kieran Tripper after more than two months out suspended but benched 126-million-euro forward Joao Felix before introducing the Portuguese in the second half.

The visitors appealed loudly for a penalty shortly before halftime when Atletico defender Felipe appeared to handle the ball while Suarez and Real's Lucas Vazquez clashed when the two teams headed off for the halftime break after disagreeing over a tackle from Casemiro on Thomas Lemar.

Real were still missing key players such as captain Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard but crucially could count on the return of top scorer Benzema.

The Frenchman was thwarted from close range by Atletico keeper Jan Oblak and then saw a powerful free kick tipped away by the Slovenian, but finally got the better of him to complete a quick counter-attack.

"I think they were better in the first half and we were better in the second and this is a good point for us," said Benzema.

"The result means the title race is still on our minds."

(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis and Clare Fallon)

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