MADRID, Dec 8, (Agencies): Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane criticised his players for switching off against Borussia Dortmund and throwing away a two-goal lead that cost the European champions top place in Champions League Group F on Wednesday.
Just as in Dortmund in September, Real conceded a late goal to draw 2-2 with Thomas Tuchel’s side, although they still equalled a club record 34-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Karim Benzema scored in each half to put Real in a comfortable position to win the group, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang responded and Marco Reus levelled in the 88th minute.
“When you see how the second half went you get a bit angry. We had the game in our hands but this is football. You need to carry on right until the end,” Zidane told a news conference.
“We created a lot of chances to score the third goal. Instead, we allowed Dortmund back into the game. Dortmund deserved first place. They demonstrated how strong they are.”
Real failed to finish top of their group for the first time since 2012-13, when they also came second to Dortmund.
Finishing second could yet prove to be a blessing for Real, who will avoid fellow runners-up Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain as well as fellow Spaniards Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, but could meet Zidane’s former side Juventus.
“I haven’t thought about the draw, I wanted us to finish top and we did everything to do that but I’m not going to keep going over it. We’ll see who we get on Monday,” the coach said.
“I don’t want to get Juventus for two reasons, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
The coach praised Benzema for becoming the sixth player to score 50 Champions League 50 goals and paid tribute to his players for matching Leo Beenhakker’s side’s run of 34 games without defeat in 1989-90.
“For any player it’s important to score and I’m very happy with Benzema, his goals, his work and the team’s work. He’s happy and we’re happy with him and the run goes on,” Zidane said.
“I have to congratulate the players because they’re the ones that fight and work so hard. Our aim is to keep this run going, because there’s still a long way to go in the season.”
In Turin, Juventus don’t care who scores, as long as they win, coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted after Gonzalo Higuain ended his five-week goal drought to help secure a precious 2-0 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb.
Juventus, beaten finalists in 2015, will head into the draw for the last 16 seeded as Group H winners after finishing three points ahead of Sevilla.
A slice of luck could be required if they are to avoid meeting the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or any other competition favourite in February.
And Allegri will be hoping Higuain, who had not scored since November 2, has finally found the scoring boots that helped him to a Serie A record of 36 goals for Napoli last season.
Until then, the Juventus coach called for less scrutiny on the under-pressure Argentine: “We needed to score goals tonight… sometimes it happens that a striker doesn’t score for a few games.
“Maybe he was just too used to scoring goals before, but at Juventus it’s important we win, not who scores.”
It was probably the best news Higuain has heard in a while.
After his record move to Juve last summer in a bid to “win titles and trophies”, Higuain has endured a testing first five months in Turin.
In London, Mauricio Pochettino insists Tottenham’s 3-1 win over CSKA Moscow was more than an upbeat farewell to the Champions League because the stylish success showed his team have got their swagger back.
Pochettino’s side were already eliminated from the Champions League before their last Group E fixture on Wednesday, but they rounded off a frustrating campaign with a dominant display against the Russian champions.
After a difficult period in which Tottenham suffered injuries to key players and lost their momentum as a result, Pochettino believes his men are back in the groove at a critical point of the season.
“We struggled in the last month and a half. We had some problems, but now we have nearly all the squad fit and we recovered that feeling we lost,” Pochettino said.
“It’s true it was a struggle to compete for a while. We crossed that period that was difficult for us.
“The team has full confidence and trust again. It’s lucky that moment arrived in a very busy moment for us.
“Now we have an important period and we are arriving in good form.”
Pochettino conceded it was frustrating to be the only English club knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage, but he took heart from Tottenham booking a place in the Europa League knockout stages by finishing third in their group.
Dele Alli got their equaliser after Alan Dzagoev’s opener and Harry Kane put Tottenham ahead before an own goal by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev sealed just their second European win this term.
Despite the potential for problems arising from the Europa League’s gruelling itinerary and far-flung destinations, Pochettino is adamant Tottenham will treat the competition seriously because the winners qualify for the Champions League.
“The Europa League is not a consolation, it is an important competition. It is a trophy that is important in Europe,” he said.
“You can qualify for the Champions League if you win it. The Europa league is a very good competition and why not believe we can win it.”