Five things you don’t know about Karim Benzema

Few players in European football can match the longevity and long-term quality that the Frenchman has shown since joining Real Madrid back in 2009, but there’s still a lot you may not know about the LaLiga star. 

1. He’s one of the five all-time top Champions League goal scorers 

Benzema’s name may not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of the all-time top scorers in the Champions League, but the Frenchman has a very impressive 70 goals to his name from 126 appearances in the competition. He scored 12 for his first club, Lyon, before adding 58 for Real Madrid since 2009. Benzema currently sits fifth in the all-time standings, and only behind LaLiga greats Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raúl Gonzalez, apart from the Polish Robert Lewandowski. 

2He scored the fastest goal in El Clasico history 

Karim took just 22 seconds to score in a LaLiga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in December 2011, making him the fastest-ever goalscorer in the history of the greatest game in club football. Since 2009 he’s scored nine times against his side’s biggest rivals, ranking him fourth on the active goal scorers ranking behind Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.  

3. He could have played for Algeria 

Born in France but of Algerian descent, Karim could played for the Algerian national team. In fact, the Algerian football federation is known to have tried to convince him when he was making a name for himself. He chose France and went on to pick up 81 caps for Les Bleues until his last appearance in 2015.  

4A film was made about his life 

 ‘Le K Benzema’ was released in 2017 and charted his rise through the ranks at Lyon and to global stardom at Real Madrid, featuring interviews with his parents, friends and teammates. The film also opened up on his friendship with French rapper Booba and his close relationship with coach Zinedine Zidane.  

5. He has eight siblings, some of which are also footballers 

Karim comes from a BIG family. In total, he has eight siblings – three brothers and five sisters. The Real Madrid star is the third youngest of the family, while his two younger brothers – Gressy and Sabri – have also made a career for themselves in football, although not quite at the same heights as Karim.  

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Five things you don’t know about Lionel Messi

The Argentine forward is a true superstar of the game and one of the most famous players on the planet, but here are some things you might not already know about him. 

1. He has scored at least seven goals against 17 LaLiga Santander teams 

All LaLiga teams naturally fear Messi when he comes up against them, with the No.10 having netted at least seven times against 17 from 19 of the other sides currently in the top division. His favourite victim is Sevilla, against whom he has a whopping 38 goals in 43 appearances. Over his career, he has faced 40 different clubs in the Spanish top flight, with only two yet to concede against him: Murcia and Xerez. 

2. He first played with fellow Barça captain Gerard Pique in 2000 

Messi and his current Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique have spent most of their footballing lives together. They were both in the same team in Barcelona’s La Masia academy, along with Cesc Fàbregas – part of the so-called “generation of ‘87” and conquered almost every challenge in their path. It was clear from that early age that these players would go on to achieve great things and, although Pique spent time at Manchester United and Real Zaragoza before returning to Barcelona, they have both been in the Blaugrana first-team squad together since 2008.  

3. He pays tributes to his grandmother after every goal 

The sight of Messi pointing towards the sky with both hands after scoring a goal has become an almost weekly occurrence in LaLiga but not many people know its meaning. It is in fact a tribute to Grandmother Celia, who Messi credits with sparking his interest in football and supporting him as he took his first steps in the game. Sadly, she passed away in 1998 and never saw him play at the top level, but his iconic celebration ensures that her spirit lives on.   

BAS39. BUENOS AIRES (ARGENTINA), 29/05/2018.- El jugador de Argentina Lionel Messi (i) disputa un balón con Bria Alceus (d) de Haití hoy, martes 29 de mayo de 2018, durante un partido amistoso en el estadio Alberto J. Armando “La Bombonera” de Buenos Aires (Argentina). EFE/David Fernández

4. He could have played for Spain at international level 

Messi has represented Argentina throughout his international career, but he could have been wearing the red of Spain had he accepted an offer to join the national team of the country where he has spent his entire professional career. After spending his childhood in Barcelona, he was eligible to play for the 2010 world champions, but Messi says the idea never crossed his mind. The rest, as they say, is history as he has gone on to become Argentina’s all-time top scorer.    

V.26. Valencia, 1103/2006.- El jugador argentino del Valencia CF Pablo Aimar (delante) lucha por el control de un balón con el jugador uruguayo del Real Madrid Carlos Diogo, durante el partido correspondiente a la 27a. jornada de Liga que se juega esta noche en el campo de Mestalla, en Valencia. EFE/Manuel Bruque.

5. His footballing idol was Pablo Aimar 

Many up-and-coming players consider Messi as a role model, but it’s easy to forget that he had an idol growing up too, just like any other aspiring footballer. His was fellow Argentina and former Valencia and Real Zaragoza playmaker Pablo Aimar. They faced each other in LaLiga on several occasions, including on one special night in 2004 when Aimar came up to the 17-year-old Messi, an unused sub on the night, after the game to offer him his shirt. He still treasures that jersey to this day.  

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Alfredo Di Stéfano:a five-star stadium for ElClasico

Real Madrid’s temporary home will host this weekend’s ElClasico against FC Barcelona. Here’s how the ground became the unexpected venue for world football’s biggest club rivalry. 

This weekend’s ElClasico clash in LaLiga Santander between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (Saturday April 10th – 9pm CET) will be played at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, part of Real Madrid’s state-of-the-art Valdebebas training complex.  

The Di Stefano will be the 12th venue to host an ElClasico fixture. The very first was in the Copa de la Coronación, held in 1902 at the Hipódromo de la Castellana in Madrid, a venue more commonly used for horse racing at the time. That was the only competitive ElClasico ever held there, while the other 244 have been split between the Santiago Bernabéu (98), Camp Nou (88), Les Corts (30), Chamartín (17), Mestalla (3), O’Donnell (3), Metropolitano (2), Velódromo Parque de Deportes (1), Vicente Calderón (1) and La Romareda (1).  

A five-star stadium for the 182nd LaLiga Santander ElClasico 

Real Madrid have been playing at the 6,000-seater ground, named after one of their all-time legends, ever since LaLiga football returned following the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with redevelopment work taking place Santiago Bernabéu during this time in which fans can’t be present at matches.  

The stadium was opened in Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex in 2006 and until 2020 was best known as the home of the club’s reserve side Castilla, who have mostly played in the second and third tier of Spanish football. The Di Stefano has hosted a couple of ‘ElClasico’ fixtures in the past, but between the clubs’ reserve sides.  

The stadium has state-of-the-art facilities, from undersoil heating to a large press area to environmentally friendly solar panels. The ground was already an excellent venue, yet the club improved the Di Stéfano even further as the first team moved in. Changes were made to assist LaLiga and UEFA’s broadcasters, changing some camera positions, while other structural changes were implemented in order to make the stadium as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. This included the installing of substitute areas in the stands behind the dugouts, allowing social distancing, and alterations to the zones around the dressing rooms to minimise risks.  

Real Madrid’s players feel very much at home at the Di Stefano, just a short walk away from the residence where they often sleep the night before early kick-offs. Zinedine Zidane knows the ground especially well, having coached Castilla before taking on the senior job in 2016. And it was club captain and icon Sergio Ramos who scored the first ever goal at the Di Stefano, against Stade de Reims in an inaugural friendly all the way back in 2006.  

Now, 15 years later, the Di Stefano will host ElClasico, the 182nd match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in LaLiga history and the 246th competitive meeting between the two sides all-time.  

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