Thibaut Courtois made the decision himself to go up for the late corner that saw Real Madrid snatch a last-gasp draw with Valencia, according to head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Madrid were staring down the barrel of a second LaLiga defeat of the season courtesy of Carlos Soler's 78th-minute striker at Mestalla.

However, Belgium goalkeeper Courtois saw a late header saved by Jaume Domenech and Karim Benzema lashed home to ensure Madrid returned to the capital with a point.

"He decided to go up and this shows that we wanted more, that we never give up," Zidane told a news conference.

"The equaliser is something that we put a lot of effort into. This is Real Madrid, a team that never gives up. They believed they could do it and they did.

"With everything we did, I think we deserved to score a goal that compensated with the effort of the team.

"Football is like this and you can't complain. You have to accept what football gives you. A point is little reward. 

"In the end, we got a big result, but it's a shame because we had a very good first half. They were better going forward in the second half and it was even."

Madrid were without Casemiro, who was rested against Valencia - likely due to the defensive midfielder being one yellow card away from suspension ahead of a midweek Clasico against Barcelona.

Zidane explained: "He wasn't meant to play and those that did did very well. Casemiro had played lots of games and I'm very happy that we did everything without him.

"We drew, but I think we deserved a bit more. He'd played 21 matches and he had to rest, but I was only thinking about the Valencia game."

Karim Benzema said he wants to lead Real Madrid to LaLiga glory this season after rescuing Los Blancos at the death against Valencia.

Madrid salvaged a dramatic 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday thanks to Benzema's last-gasp equaliser.

After Luka Jovic had a goal disallowed for offside, Benzema slammed home the leveller at Mestalla, where Madrid stayed level on points with rivals Barcelona atop the table.

"I want to win this league title and, if I can help my team-mates with play and with words, I will do it," said Benzema, who is only one goal behind LaLiga's leading scorer Lionel Messi this season. "I'm the third captain and I have to help.

"I think it's a good point for us. It could be important for the rest of the league campaign as we look to do well.

"What has changed compared to other seasons is the number of goals. I always try to help the team on the pitch and I have a lot of confidence in myself. The help of my team-mates is also important to me because they give me the ball and set up chances for me to score more goals."

Benzema found the back of the net after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois almost scored a stunning equaliser.

Courtois went up for a corner, with Madrid desperate to salvage a point, and his header was dramatically saved by Valencia counterpart Jaume Domenech before Benzema pounced.

"I took advantage of my height to meet the corner," Courtois said. "I'm two metres tall and opponents get nervous if I go up [for corners].

"Toni [Kroos] sends corners to the near post, I saw the ball coming at my height and I connected well. Then the ball fell to Benzema and he scored."

Real Madrid salvaged a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday thanks to a late Karim Benzema equaliser that Zinedine Zidane believes is proof of the team's fighting spirit.

Valencia looked to be heading for a 1-0 win when Carlos Soler put the hosts in front with 12 minutes to go, then surviving a scare as Luka Jovic had a goal disallowed for offside.

But Madrid continued to plug away and eventually restored parity deep into stoppage time – Benzema slamming home after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was remarkably denied when his header was saved by Jaume Domenech.

As such, Madrid go into Wednesday's Clasico against Barcelona with something of a morale boost, with Zidane suggesting the late goal highlights his team's mentality.

"This shows you what we are, we fight until the end. We fight and what we want is to get a good result," he told Movistar.

"We don't lower our arms. We got it [the equaliser] with the courtesy of Courtois and Karim. I'm glad for them because it has been a tremendous effort from everyone.

"You have to be proud of the game. When in such a difficult stadium, you concede a goal a few minutes from full-time, you can fall apart, but we still thought that something could be achieved, and we achieved it."

Club captain Sergio Ramos was less philosophical about dropping points, however, acknowledging he leaves Mestalla disappointed.

"Despite scoring at the end, it tastes a bit bitter despite adding a point. When you don't leave with the three points, you leave with that pity," he said.

"I think we've controlled the match well, with balance. We had in front of us a rival who came into the match in good form.

"We can't press for the full 90 minutes, but we've gone all the way. We've made a point that allows us to stay joint-top."

Karim Benzema rescued Real Madrid at the death with a stoppage-time equaliser that salvaged a 1-1 draw away to Valencia, but they missed the chance to go into El Clasico top of the table.

Madrid looked to be heading for a deserved defeat when Carlos Soler netted with 12 minutes to go, but Benzema smashed in from close range right at the end, meaning Los Blancos head into Wednesday's clash with bitter rivals Barcelona level on 35 points with them.

Madrid started with the greater purpose but failed to make the most of their opportunities, offering encouragement to Valencia, who threatened several times through Ferran Torres.

Much of the second half was cagier, with clear-cut chances less frequent, but Soler finished off a swift move to finally open the scoring, before Madrid avoided defeat with one of the last kicks of the game – Benzema saving Zinedine Zidane's men.

Cristiano Ronaldo passed the 10-goal mark for a 15th successive season on Sunday, making him the only player across Europe's top five leagues to accomplish the feat in the same period.

The Juventus star got a brace as the Old Lady comfortable brushed Udinese aside 3-1 in Turin, returning them to the Serie A summit for at least a few hours.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the ninth minute, blasting home from just inside the area after the ball dropped kindly for him.

He then doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark, steering in following Gonzalo Higuain's incisive pass.

The goals took his tally to 11 for the campaign across all competitions.

Portugal star Ronaldo began his double-figure scoring streak in 2005-06 when he netted 12 across all fronts for Manchester United, following that up with hauls of 23, 42 and 26 before heading to Real Madrid in 2009.

With Los Blancos, the fewest goals he managed in a single season was 33 in his first year at the club.

In every other campaign at Madrid he scored 42 or more, with his best being a remarkable record of 61 in 2014-15.

Last term he got 28 in 43 matches for Juventus in his first campaign with the Italian side.

Zinedine Zidane vowed to respect Paris Saint-Germain's relationship with Kylian Mbappe amid rumours of disharmony at Parc des Princes.

Mbappe, 20, was publicly told by Thomas Tuchel to respect coaching decisions after seemingly ignoring the PSG boss when substituted late in last weekend's Ligue 1 win at Montpellier.

French newspaper L'Equipe then claimed the World Cup winner has at times questioned his importance and treatment in comparison to team-mate Neymar.

The report fuelled speculation Mbappe could seek a move to Real Madrid in future but Zidane, who recently admitted to being "in love" with the talented France forward, tried to avoid driving a wedge between player and coach.

"Mbappe plays for PSG. I can't comment on what goes on there behind the scenes," the Madrid boss said on Saturday ahead of his side's LaLiga game against Valencia.

"That would be a lack of respect on my part. You know that I know him very well, but I have to have respect."

Madrid's trip to Mestalla on Sunday marks their final match before El Clasico on Wednesday, a potentially pivotal encounter in the title race.

Zidane insisted his team was focused only on beating Valencia and would not be distracted by the upcoming match at Camp Nou.

"We don't even talk about it," he said. "We are not interested in what will happen on Wednesday. We are only interested in tomorrow's game.

"Valencia are playing very well, getting very good results, they're through to the next stage of the Champions League.

"What we want is to give the best version of ourselves and to try to continue growing as a team. That is what interests us."

Zidane offered no clues over his starting XI but promised Gareth Bale had not fallen out of favour after the winger went unused against Club Brugge in the Champions League.

"I don't think Gareth's role is less important now," he said.

"He is one of us and I will count on him, but I have 25 players and they are all important to me. I follow the squad's progress day by day and everyone puts in. Bale is as important as the others."

Arsenal appear to have strengthened their interest in Nuno Espirito Santo.

Just over two weeks after dismissing Unai Emery, the Gunners are reportedly ready to hold talks with one of the top contenders to take over at Emirates Stadium.

But the Portuguese is not alone when it comes to candidates with Premier League experience.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS STEP UP NUNO CHASE

Arsenal will ask Wolves for permission to conduct formal discussions with Nuno next week, according to the Daily Mail.

The north Londoners are reportedly ready to "set to accelerate their interest" in the 45-year-old former Valencia and Porto head coach.

Belgium boss Robert Martinez is also said to have been approached, while Mauricio Pochettino, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira continue to be linked.

Freddie Ljungberg has overseen two draws, a defeat and a solitary victory since taking charge on an interim basis.

ROUND-UP

- Like his former employers, ex-Arsenal boss Emery will not be rushed into a decision on his next move. Marca says the Spaniard has turned down the chance to speak to two Chinese clubs and managerless Everton since becoming a free agent on November 29.

- Premier League champions Manchester City hope to bring wantaway winger Jadon Sancho back to the Etihad Stadium after losing him to Borussia Dortmund in 2017, reports the Daily Mail.

- On the outer at Chelsea, Olivier Giroud appears to be moving closer to the Stamford Bridge exit door. L'Equipe claims the France striker is close to agreeing personal terms on a January switch to Inter, where he would reunite with Antonio Conte.

- Serie A side Milan will be offered the chance to sign Luka Jovic on loan from Real Madrid in January, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

- Barcelona will listen to offers of €10million for teenage defender Jean-Clair Todibo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Spanish newspaper claims Bayer Leverkusen, Milan, Monaco, Southampton and Watford have submitted bids.

- Real Betis have sealed a deal to sign former Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco from Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, according to Deportes Cuatro.

Liverpool lead the way with 10 nominations for the EA Sports FIFA Team of the Year.

Harry Kane has no limits to what he can do and is still yet to reach his peak, according to former Tottenham team-mate Roberto Soldado.

Soldado joined Spurs from Valencia in 2013 but the striker – a regular scorer in LaLiga – found life tough in England, managing just seven goals in 52 league appearances over the course of two seasons before leaving for Villarreal.

However, Soldado believes he was not helped by the emergence of Kane, who quickly impressed his fellow frontman during their time working together in England.

"I always say that if there is one period of my career I'm not happy with, it's my time at Tottenham," Soldado, now at Granada, said in an interview with The Guardian.

"I also had Harry Kane's boom to contend with, I understood perfectly because you could see it from the start.

"I saw his level in training and it was amazing. I don't think there's a limit to what he can do; we still haven't seen the best of Harry Kane.

"When we did shooting drills… pfff. With both feet, he was prolific. He plays so well back to goal, gives assists, is intelligent, thinks quicker than before.

"Maybe he had struggled this season because the team wasn't having the best time, but he's continually improving."

Soldado came through the ranks at Real Madrid and believes Kane would fit right in at the Spanish club, adding: "I'd like to see it."

The 34-year-old has watched from afar as Tottenham have struggled this season, leading to the departure of Mauricio Pochettino.

Jose Mourinho has since taken charge, with Soldado confident the Portuguese will "get them competing" after a sticky start.

"I don't know [what went wrong for Pochettino]," Soldado said on the current situation. "I still talk to Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen, but about personal stuff. You could see it wasn't working. 

"[Mauricio] Pochettino had a very clear idea; he worked us very hard tactically and physically, which I think we needed after Tim Sherwood. From the start, he connected with the dressing room and every year it got better.

"The level Pochettino got from the players was higher than anyone could have expected. [But] they lost consistency and maybe Spurs needed a change.

"Now one of the best coaches has arrived and he’ll get them competing. Kane will always be grateful to Pochettino, I’m sure: his big change came with him. But he’ll trust José Mourinho because he’s a great coach."

Dani Carvajal would like Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid as he believes the world's best players should be at the Santiago Bernabeu.

France star Mbappe continues to be linked with a future move to Madrid and has reportedly stalled on the idea of a new PSG contract in order to make a transfer more likely.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the 20-year-old forward, whose relationship with PSG boss Thomas Tuchel has shown signs of strain lately, not least when Mbappe ignored him after being substituted against Montpellier last weekend.

Carvajal would certainly not be against Mbappe moving to the Spanish capital, telling reporters on Thursday: "What we've seen is obvious. He's one of the greats and it would be good [to play with him] because the best have to be here."

Madrid defender Carvajal was speaking ahead of a difficult week for Madrid, who face Valencia at Mestalla on Sunday before next Wednesday's Clasico with Barcelona at Camp Nou.

That fixture was due to take place in October but was rearranged after concern about political unrest in Catalonia.

Security issues remain a concern ahead of the game, while it is expected that a large banner encouraging dialogue over the issue of Catalan independence will be displayed by a protest group in the stands.

Carvajal is keen for authorities to ensure the match goes ahead safely, but he insists he is only concerned with getting three points.

"We're calm. We want it to be played with the maximum guarantees of security. We don't know if it was a mistake to rearrange it," said the full-back.

"I want to go to Camp Nou and win. The rest doesn't bother me.

"It's a very important, beautiful week for us and we're going to try to make it three [wins] from three.

"We have fewer hours of rest than Barcelona and after a demanding game like at Mestalla, it can show in your legs."

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has targeted a reunion with his former club Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

Ronaldo netted for Juventus in a 2-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday as they finished their Group D campaign with five wins and a draw.

The Italian champions will be joined in the knockout stages by Group A runners-up Madrid, with whom Ronaldo spent nine memorable years before heading to Turin in 2018.

Madrid are one of five sides Juve could face in the last 16, along with Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon and Tottenham, but Ronaldo is hoping to avoid the LaLiga giants for now.

"Real are an extraordinary team, but if you ask me, I'd rather face them later," Ronaldo, who won the Champions League four times with Madrid, told Sky Sport Italia.

"In the final? I would sign up now to meet them in the final."

Ronaldo has scored in three successive matches for Juventus and feels fully over a niggling injury that curtailed his playing time last month.

"I feel good, the physical problems I had have passed," he said. "It was four weeks that I was playing with a little pain, but now I'm fine.

"The team is doing well. We played very well in the second half [against Leverkusen] and are first in the group. Things have improved for me too. I have more confidence and hope to continue like this."

Maurizio Sarri claimed last week that it is not possible to use Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain in a front three, with the Juventus head coach instead preferring to rotate.

Ronaldo admitted he likes playing alongside the Argentinian duo but is happy to follow Sarri's plan.

"Whether I play with Dybala or Higuain, it is great," he said.

"I like playing with both of them, we have a lot of fun on the pitch, but the coach is the one who makes the decisions and we must respect them.

"But I can't deny that we have a lot of fun."

Real Madrid teenager Vinicius Junior says he is "working hard" to follow the path of Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling by becoming a more regular goalscorer.

Vinicius slotted home from close range for his first goal since September in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Club Brugge in the Champions League.

The Brazil international has netted six times in 43 appearances for Madrid, who he joined from Flamengo in July 2018, a year after his reported €45million buyout clause was triggered.

Vinicius does not believe his game is suited to scoring goals freely, but he hopes to improve in that department over time.

Citing the example of Sterling, who has become increasingly clinical in front of goal over the past few seasons, the 19-year-old attacker said: "I don't play to score. I play to help the team.

"Sterling at City also had trouble scoring goals. I left Brazil very early and I'm working hard to do great things."

Vinicius' compatriot Rodrygo Goes was also on target for Madrid in Belgium, taking his tally to six goals for the campaign.

Rather than being envious of Rodrygo's impressive start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu, though, Vinicius is pleased for his team-mate.

"We're friends," he said, according to Marca. "I'm happy because he is doing things very well."

Europe's top five leagues have monopolised the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in the competition's history.

With Atalanta's 3-0 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk, the Serie A side ensured only nations from Italy, England, France, Germany and Spain would complete the last-16 line up prior to the final group fixtures on Wednesday.

Atalanta's win left only one place in the last 16 to be decided, with Atletico Madrid's 2-0 triumph over Lokomotiv Moscow – combined with a 2-0 loss for Bayer Leverkusen at home to Juventus – enough to send Diego Simeone's men through.

It is the first time only teams from the top-tier nations in European football have been included in the draw for the knockout stage, which will take place on Monday.

England – Premier League: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham

Chelsea and Liverpool had the biggest scares of the group stage when it came to the English sides, though both ultimately qualified.

Current holders Liverpool put in a clinical second-half display to dispatch Salzburg 2-0 in their final Group E match, with Frank Lampard's side progressing from Group H thanks to a 2-1 win over Lille – last season's semi-finalists Ajax dropping into the Europa League despite amassing 10 points

Tottenham were on the wrong end of a 7-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in October, but three successive victories sent them through prior to their second meeting with the German champions, while Manchester City qualified as Group C winners.

France – Ligue 1: Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain look like they mean business this season and, after ensuring their place in the next round with a 2-2 comeback draw away at Real Madrid, capped off their Group A campaign in style with a 5-0 thrashing of lowly Galatasaray.

Neymar starred on Wednesday, with Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani all scoring too – with their star-studded forward line in such form, Thomas Tuchel's side should be some force in the knockouts.

Memphis Depay was the hero for Lyon, meanwhile, as his 82nd-minute equaliser against RB Leipzig sent Rudi Garcia's side from bottom up to second.

Germany – Bundesliga: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig

Along with PSG, Bayern were the standout performers of the group stage – their haul of 18 points and a goal difference of +19 making them the best group winner in Champions League history.

Leipzig made history when they secured their first participation in the knockout stage thanks to Emil Forsberg's double against Benfica on matchday five in Group G, though Borussia Dortmund had to see off Slavia Prague 2-1 in their final Group F game – and rely on Barcelona to defeat Inter.

Italy – Serie A: Atalanta, Juventus, Napoli

Atalanta seemed on the brink after three straight defeats to start their Group C campaign, yet Gian Piero Gasperini's side battled back – a draw with City and wins over Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar continuing their Champions League adventure, becoming the first side to go through after losing their opening three matches.

Juventus' tally of 16 points in Group D saw them equal their own record – set in 1996-97 and matched in 2004-05 – while Napoli hammered Genk 4-0 on Tuesday to book their last-16 berth, though it was not enough to keep Carlo Ancelotti in his job.

There will be no place in the last 16 for Serie A leaders Inter, though, with Antonio Conte's side dropping into the Europa League.

Spain – LaLiga: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia

LaLiga, like the Premier League, will have four representatives in the knockout stage. Barca were unconvincing at times in Group F, but had enough to seal their spot with a game to spare before ending Inter's hopes.

Atleti needed to overcome Lokomotiv on matchday six, but did so easily enough thanks to Joao Felix and Felipe – though Kieran Trippier missed an early penalty – and their city rivals Real Madrid ultimately easily progressed from Group A despite a chastening defeat to PSG in their opening match.

Valencia were involved in a mighty tussle with Chelsea and Ajax, who beat them 3-0 in their first home match, but eventually topped Group H thanks to a 1-0 win over the Eredivisie champions on Tuesday.

Zinedine Zidane joked his Real Madrid side would have no issues beating last season's winners Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The LaLiga giants had already secured their knockout berth before their 3-1 win over Club Brugge on Wednesday and can now turn their attention to the draw for the next stage, which takes place on Monday.

Hans Vanaken cancelled out Rodrygo Goes' opener within the space of two second-half minutes, but a first Champions League goal for Vinicius Junior and a sublime strike from Luka Modric sealed all three points for Zidane's side.

Madrid finished second in Group A, five points behind Paris Saint-Germain, which means they will be drawn against the winners of another group, potentially Jurgen Klopp's Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Asked if the Reds were a team to be avoided, Zidane smiled and said: "If we play Liverpool, we will eliminate them."

More soberly, he added: "We can't do anything about the draw."

Madrid were far from their best in Belgium but Zidane insists he was happy with his side's performance.

"We are happy with the victory and with the way we played," he said. "We had difficulty with our game since they usually play with five at the back and, today, they played with four.

"It took 10 or 15 minutes for the players to adjust. The second half was better in every area."

Luka Jovic was chosen to start in attack alongside Rodrygo and Vinicius, but the Serbian was again unable to make an impression.

He has still scored just one goal in Madrid colours since his move from Eintracht Frankfurt, and Zidane concedes the striker needs more playing time to find his groove.

"I don't think he feels lost," the Frenchman said. "He has played little and a player needs to play a lot to be well. 

"I think he has done well and has to continue working as he does. It's a problem of mine, it's not yours. He needs to continue working and, every time he plays, respond. 

"It's not easy because he doesn't play much, but knows the situation. He needs to play, it's true."

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