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Al Ittihad


Benzema crowns Al-Ittihad debut with a goal and an assist

The French striker set up Abderrazak Hamdallah for the equaliser then scored a stunning winner in the 1-2 win over Espérance Sportive Tunis.

Karim Benzema, con el Al Ittihad.
The French striker set up Abderrazak Hamdallah for the equaliser then scored a stunning winner in the 1-2 win over Espérance Sportive Tunis.STREFE

Messi’s first appearance for Inter Miami didn’t disappoint and Karim Benzema has got to a similar, flying start in Riyadh this evening. The French forward toasted his debut for new club Al-Ittihad with a goal and an assist in the team’s first outing in the Arab Club Champions Cup. Both of those contributions helped his team overcome Espérance Sportive Tunis (1-2) in a match in which N’Golo Kanté also made his official debut.

In many ways, Karim is to Al-Ittihad what Cristiano is at Al-Nassr - they seek him out in every move, almost as though he were a video game player capable of finishing off every attack. Some might argue that in recent years, Real Madrid too depended too heavily on Benzema, but they had other players who could be decisice: Vinicius, Modric and Rodrygo... It’s evident that both Benzema and Cristiano along with all of the other big names that are due to arrive in Saudi Arabia have gone there to bring visibility to football in the region, but with this one-dimensional gameplan, you tend only to see the best or worst of them.

Hamdallah levels

While Al-Itthad were obsessing with Benzema grabbing his first official goal, Espérance took the lead. Not that they could have done much to prevent Oussama Bouguerra’s wonderful, first-time strike which blazed inside the top corner like a comet. The Tunisians’ joy didn’t last long - less than 10 minutes later, Al-Itthad were back level and KB9 was right at the heart of it. With one swift cutback, he gained a yard on Ghaith Ouahabi, then dinked in a cross for Hamdallah to head practically into an empty net. Little over half an hour in and Benzema had already notched his first assist for his new employers

Bend it like Benz

Kanté's entry in the second half gave Benzema some breathing space - now he had someone to share the limelight with. With less focus on him, the striker was able to move more freely, drift out to either wing and become invisible to the rival defence, who couldn’t keep track of him.

That left him time and space to do what he does best. With 55 minutes on the clock, Benzema was allowed to cut inside from the left and curl a shot beyond Amanallah Memmich’s outstretched hand and into the top corner. The perfect way to put the seal on a dream debut. With the scoreboard reading 1-2, Karim made way for Sultan Al-Farhan on 71 minutes, and left the pitch at the King Fahd Stadium in Taifa with thunderous applause ringing in his ears as he made his way to the dug-out.