Thibaut Courtois tipped Karim Benzema to challenge for the Ballon d'Or following his star performance for Real Madrid against Paris Saint-Germain.

Benzema struck a hat-trick to secure a 3-1 second-leg win over PSG at the Santiago Bernabeu and send Madrid into the Champions League quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.

The Ligue 1 leaders held a 1-0 lead from the first leg of the last-16 tie and, after Kylian Mbappe fired past Courtois in the first half, it looked as though the tie could be over.

That was until Benzema led a stirring fightback in the final half-hour, scoring his first after forcing an error from goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and then steering home a deflected strike.

The France striker then flicked in Vinicius Junior's pass to send the home fans into jubilations and mark his 500th start for the club in supreme style by surpassing the great Alfredo Di Stefano in Madrid's all-time scoring charts with 309 in all competitions.

Courtois now thinks Benzema, who became the oldest player to score a hat-trick in Champions League history at the age of 34 years and 80 days, could be in line for the game's top individual honour in 2022.

"I think he's one of the greatest players in the world, the best number nine, maybe with Lewandowski right now," Courtois told RMC Sport.

"I think he showed why he should, maybe, win the Ballon d'Or this year. He's a great player, a real captain. He led the team to victory with his goals and his class."

Mbappe twice saw a goal ruled out for offside prior to Madrid's fightback as PSG again suffered a Champions League second-leg collapse in Spain, five years on from their famous 6-1 loss to Luis Enrique's Barcelona.

"In the end, it was a complicated match with Kylian and Neymar on the counter-attack," said Courtois.

"That was how the first goal came about. Just before then, they had a few chances without much danger.

"We had a nice shot from Karim, I think Donnarumma made a good save from a header. Then Karim pressed the goalkeeper well, he made a mistake, we got back to 1-1. From there, I think the whole stadium was behind us.

"We went for the win after going 2-1 up, the third goal was key, and you felt that for the PSG players, it was harder after this goal."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez predicted Luka Modric could win the Ballon d'Or for a second time after his masterclass in the Supercopa de Espana final.

Croatian playmaker Modric scooped France Football's prestigious prize for world player of the year after his dazzling performances at the 2018 World Cup.

He will turn 37 before the Qatar World Cup in November, but Modric's goal and overall display in the 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday showed he remains a force.

Thibaut Courtois saved a late penalty from Raul Garcia as Madrid made sure of a first trophy since Carlo Ancelotti returned to the club for a second spell as coach.

Asked about Courtois and Modric, Perez said after the game: "Without wanting to brag, they are the two best in their position. The best goalkeeper and Modric in enviable form, worthy of winning the Ballon d'Or again."

Modric's passing accuracy this season is an outstanding 90.41 per cent, and even in the opposition half it is 89.03 per cent, which are impressive numbers given he plays a lot of high-tariff balls.

He has created eight big chances for others this season already and has five assists, while the shot he sent arcing past Unai Simon in the 38th minute at the King Fahd Stadium gave Modric a first goal of the season. He took away the most valuable player award from Sunday's game.

Perez is still probably getting excited too soon, given the Ballon d'Or is an end-of-year prize, but Modric was excellent, and midfield colleague Toni Kroos had a 95 per cent accuracy rate from his game-high 100 passes, helping ensure Madrid had the game tied up before withstanding a late flurry of attacks from Athletic.

Former Barcelona captain Lionel Messi took the Ballon d'Or for a record seventh time last year, with even Robert Lewandowski's Bayern Munich goalscoring feats not enough to knock the Argentine great off his accustomed top spot in the vote.

 

Madrid should win more silverware this season. They lead LaLiga, have a Copa del Rey last-16 clash with Elche on Thursday, and remain in the Champions League, albeit with a tough tie against Paris Saint-Germain coming up next in that competition.

Perez enthused about the prospects for this Ancelotti stint, saying of Madrid's early success: "It means a lot."

Quoted in Marca, Perez said: "We always want to win everything, they taught us that since we were little. This year it was 60 years since I became a member, and that's how we were educated. I work along the lines that Santiago Bernabeu set for us, and I am happy because we have won the first title."

Courtois did not particularly guess right for Garcia's penalty, as much as guess late, meaning his outstretched leg could reach the ball down the middle as the rest of his body lurched to the right.

"I was hesitating between going to the right or staying in the middle," the Belgian goalkeeper told #Vamos, "and that's why I kept my foot there and I was able to stop it. If not, we would have had a heart-stopping final few minutes."

Thibaut Courtois has confirmed he is asymptomatic after returning a positive test result for COVID-19.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper, along with team-mates Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior, was confirmed by Los Blancos to have tested positive in the latest round of testing.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without the four players for at least their opening matches of 2022, against Getafe and Alcoyano respectively.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Carlo Ancelotti, while Courtois' steady presence will also be absent.

"Unfortunately, and despite complying with all the measures, I have tested positive for COVID," wrote the Belgium goalkeeper on Twitter.

"Although I do not have any symptoms, I am at home following the corresponding protocol and training to return as soon as possible. Thank you all!"

SAFE HANDS

Courtois has played every minute for Madrid in all competitions so far in 2021-22, with back-up Andriy Lunin yet to make a single LaLiga appearance for Los Blancos across the last two seasons.

The Ukrainian was one of six Madrid players to test positive for COVID-19 last week, though should be in line to return from isolation in time to face Getafe on January 2.

Only Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel (26) has made more appearances of goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues than Courtois (25) this campaign.

Of shot-stoppers to play at least 20 times, only Yassine Bounou (Sevilla) and Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) – both 15 – have conceded fewer goals than Courtois' tally of 19.

In LaLiga, Courtois concedes 0.84 goals per 90 minutes played, ranking him third out of goalkeepers to have featured at least 10 times in Spain's top flight this season.

Courtois' save percentage of 78.41, meanwhile, leads the way in Europe's top five leagues, out of goalkeepers to have played 20 games or more across all competitions, ahead of Mendy (77.61), and the former Chelsea man has made only one error leading to a shot, with that mistake not resulting in a goal.

Thibaut Courtois, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior have all tested positive for COVID-19, Real Madrid have confirmed.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without another four players for at least their two opening matches of 2022.

Madrid issued a short statement on Wednesday confirming Courtois, Camavinga, Valverde and Vinicius were the latest players to test positive.

Los Blancos face Getafe in LaLiga on January 2, before travelling to Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey three days later.

David Alaba and Isco were confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus on December 21, taking the total of Madrid players to have contracted the illness to eight in the space of a week.

Luka Modric and Marcelo had gone into quarantine after routine testing on December 15, and Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo and Andriy Lunin then tested positive the following day, along with Carlo Ancelotti's son and technical assistant Davide.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Ancelotti.

Madrid will be hoping to welcome back the players in time for their home match against Valencia on January 8.

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro hailed "difference maker" Vinicius Junior after the in-form Los Blancos star produced a moment of brilliance to sink Sevilla in LaLiga.

Vinicius' stunning late goal helped Madrid overcome rivals Sevilla 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Rafa Mir's early header had Madrid on the backfoot against former head coach Julen Lopetegui, but Karim Benzema restored parity after the half-hour mark.

Vinicius then stepped up three minutes from the end with a wonderful long-range shot as Madrid moved four points clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad atop the standings.

The Brazil international has now scored nine goals in 14 LaLiga appearances this season – one more than in his previous 82 games for Madrid in the competition, and Casemiro lauded 21-year-old.

"He knows that the teams are going to make it difficult for him because they realise that he's a very important player for Real Madrid," Casemiro said of his countryman.

"Great players score great goals whenever they get the chance.

"We know he's a great player, he's a difference maker when he gets the chance."

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "Vini struggled to get into the game, but then he got a great goal.

"[He] trains really hard so that things like that come off in games. He didn't have the best of games, but the confidence he has in his own ability to make the difference is what we need from him and he delivered tonight.

Madrid have won more points from losing positions than any other team in LaLiga this season – 10 points, two more than neighbours and defending champions Atletico.

"It's important for us to play at home with the fans behind us. The coach makes it very clear that the substitutions are important," Casemiro said.

"The players who came on today did very well. We're Real Madrid and we have to have a strong squad."

Karim Benzema fully merits the plaudits for a stunning start to the season, according to Real Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos.

Benzema scored Madrid's second goal in a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday and leads LaLiga for both goals (10) and assists (seven).

He has now been directly involved in 22 goals in 15 matches for Madrid in all competitions this season, trailing only Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski (25 involvements in 17 matches) of players in Europe's top-five leagues.

"I see what Karim does in training and how he plays and deserves every success," Kroos told Movistar.

"But what matters to me is what you win with us. I am happy with my goal but because it helped us win. The individual awards do not interest me much.

"We came from a tough match in the Champions League and at 2-1 you suffer a little. Vinicius has helped us a lot so far, in difficult times too, and I hope he continues like this."

Benzema has now reached 10 goals in 11 of his 13 seasons in La Liga (10 in 2021-22) and only former Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (15) has scored 10-plus goals in more campaigns in the competition in the 21st century than the French striker.

The 33-year-old Benzema was substituted by Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti with seven minutes left and replaced by Eden Hazard.

Ancelotti felt Benzema could have got more goals – having had one struck off by VAR early in the first half before he netted from close range – but suffered from fatigue in the second half.

"It's quite rare that Karim misses the opportunities we've had," Ancelotti added. "I have removed him because he was tired."

Rayo pulled a goal back through former Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, who has netted a goal every 67 minutes in LaLiga this season with the best ratio in the competition (five goals after 334 minutes played).

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois admitted the failure to keep a clean sheet took the gloss of the victory and his team-mates must learn to grind out a victory if they are unable to be prolific in front of goal.

"It was part good and part bittersweet at the end," Courtois said.

"We controlled the game, but in the end they almost ended up drawing. Today the three points were very important. They have pushed and we don't take advantage of our chances to score more goals.

"We managed the game quite well, but in the penultimate corner they almost scored a goal and there we have to improve. The team has shown that it knows how to fight and that we are focused until the end. 

"We have to try to keep a clean sheet and close out the game. It's something we have to change because we have a lot of quality to score more goals."

Carlo Ancelotti hailed Real Madrid's togetherness and defensive work after Los Blancos defeated Barcelona 2-1 in Sunday's Clasico to return to the top of LaLiga.

David Alaba opened the scoring on his Clasico debut before Lucas Vazquez tapped in a second in stoppage time as Madrid seemed to be cruising to their fourth consecutive win over Barca in all competitions – their best run since 1965.

Sergio Aguero's pulled one back at Camp Nou but that was not enough as the hosts went winless in a fifth straight LaLiga Clasico, their longest run without a victory against any team in the competition since May 2008.

However, at times Madrid had to soak up significant pressure and Ancelotti was delighted with his side's resolute defending as Ronald Koeman became only the second coach to suffer defeat in his first three Clasico meetings.

"We can compete, the team is very solid," Ancelotti started as he spoke to Movistar Plus post-match.

"We have played against a great one, who has played a great game. We have suffered, but we have known how to suffer together. Not to lose control when you don't have the ball, it is also a virtue.

"We have done very well. On the defensive aspect, I liked it a lot. We would all like to put pressure on the whole field, but it can't be done.

"It was a practical game. This team has this quality to play against and we have to enjoy it. Barca has complicated the game for us. It was not simple.

"I'm happy to win, El Clasico is the most important game. We are happy, but unfortunately, this is only three points."

Thibaut Courtois was required to make just the one save in a quiet game for the Belgium international but sustained a slight knock late on, revealing he was suffering while kicking the ball.

"Here you have to defend," Courtois told Movistar Plus after the match. "It is important to be well organized. Barca will be there until the end, winning here is good "

"We were always good, they didn't have chances until that final goal. We have to be more focused, because with two minutes remaining, with the stadium squeezing everything could happen [after Aguero's goal].

"I felt a pain when kicking, I could continue, I hope it is nothing serious."

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised UEFA and FIFA for their attitude towards player welfare due to the number of fixtures being crammed into the calendar.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the back of his national side's 2-1 loss to Italy in the Nations League third-place play-off on Sunday.

Both teams rested a number of players for the match at the Allianz Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard absent for Belgium due to muscular problems.

Courtois also played a full part in the semi-final defeat to France three days earlier and has questioned why his side had to face Italy in what he felt was a meaningless match.

"This game is just a money game and we have to be honest about it," he said in his post-match interview. "We just play it because for UEFA it's extra money.

"Look at how much both teams changed [line-ups]. If both teams would have been in the final, there would have been other players in the final playing.

"This just shows that we play too many games."

The international calendar is potentially facing further changes, with a biennial World Cup being proposed by FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger.

UEFA has already made clear it is against the plans and Courtois has added his name to a growing list of dissenters.

"They [UEFA] made an extra trophy [the Europa Conference League]… it is always the same," he said.

"They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League, but they don't care about the players, they just care about their pockets.

"It's a bad thing that players are not spoken about. And now you hear about a European Championship and a World Cup every year, when will we get a rest? Never."

Courtois added: "In the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It's something that should be much better and much more taken care of.

"We are not robots! It's just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us.

"Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play until the latter stages of June again. We will get injured! Nobody cares about the players anymore.

"Three weeks of holiday is not enough for players to be able to continue for 12 months at the highest level. If we never say anything it [will be] always the same."

Thibaut Courtois kept his 100th clean sheet in LaLiga but the Real Madrid goalkeeper was left frustrated after a "bitter" goalless draw with Villarreal.

Belgium international Courtois became one of only five goalkeepers to achieve a hundred or more shut outs in LaLiga in the 21st century.

Only Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak (182) has reached the milestone in fewer games than Courtois (217).

However, the 29-year-old was more concerned with dropped points as Madrid missed the chance to increase their lead at the top of LaLiga to five points after city rivals Atletico lost earlier in the day to Alaves.

"A clean sheet is not bad after conceding in the last games," he told Movistar.

"It is a bit of a bitter draw because it is at home and if a direct rival loses you want to win the three points. The point is not enough for us. 

"We have prepared the game to try to put pressure on them, but in the first half they did very well. It was difficult to take the ball from them. 

"We have missed too many passes. Sometimes it happens."

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti felt his tactics were spot on even though his side managed just two shots on target.

Both of them came in the second half after Madrid failed to register an attempt on goal in the opening 45 minutes for the first time under Ancelotti.

"I don't think the approach was wrong but correct," Ancelotti said in a media conference.

"It was difficult to play between the lines because they defended very well. In the first half, we had difficulties because we did not have Etienne Capoue under control. 

"In the second half we had more control, but we did not find a good opportunity. We put in more intensity, but it was very difficult to pressure them because they handled the ball well."

The match was the 800th that Ancelotti had presided over as a coach in Europe's top five leagues and notched up his 182th draw to go with 475 wins and 143 defeats.

Madrid are three points clear of second-placed Sevilla, who have a game in hand.

"We finished with a clean sheet and that is positive after the last matches," added the Italian.

"Against Villarreal, if it's not your best night it's difficult to win. We are still up there in the league and that is what matters."

Roberto Martinez was pleased with the maturity shown by his Belgium side after they recovered from an early setback in their World Cup qualifying win over Estonia. 

The Red Devils fell behind for the third time in four Group E matches when Mattias Kait turned over possession and rifled a shot past Thibaut Courtois inside the first two minutes of Thursday's contest. 

But Hans Vanaken had Belgium on level terms 20 minutes later and Romelu Lukaku scored either side of half-time to give the visitors some breathing space in Tallinn. 

Substitute Thomas Foket bagged his first international goal after Axel Witsel had further extended Belgium's lead, rendering Erik Sorga's late strike nothing more than a consolation. 

Despite conceding a couple of sloppy goals in the 5-2 victory, Martinez was ultimately happy with the result in his side's first game since their Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy two months ago. 

"Estonia deserve all the credit for their first goal – they recaptured the ball high up on the pitch and the shot was great. That just happens in football," Martinez said. 

"The second goal is due to the substitutions we made. I was pleased that after the first goal we remained calm and knew what to do.  

"I'm happy to have scored five goals. The team has shown maturity today. These gatherings in September are not the easiest, and it's not always the favourites who win."

Courtois was well beaten by Kait's early shot and was let down by some sloppy defending for Sorga's strike as Belgium shipped two goals for the second game running. 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper was eager to focus on the positives from the win, however, which leaves Belgium top of Group E with 10 points from four matches. 

"We played a good game today," Courtois said. "Those two goals against us are of course less good, but in possession we were good.  

"The goals we conceded is something that happens. There's nothing you can do about it. We have to analyse it internally, but the most important thing today was the win. 

"We could have scored eight or nine goals in the end, but we know that it has to be better against the Czech Republic on Sunday." 

Thursday's match was a special occasion for Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who made his senior debut for Belgium as a second-half substitute. 

"I'm happy with my first cap," he said. "The coach asked me to play for the team, he didn't want the team to relax.  

"It's a good period for me and my family but you have to keep your feet on the ground. It's clearly a good time for me and I hope it will continue." 

Thibaut Courtois has signed a fresh five-year deal with Real Madrid, the club confirmed on Monday.

Madrid have allowed experienced defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane leave the club, as they look to ease financial difficulties compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Madrid have decided to secure the long-term future of goalkeeper Courtois, who has signed a deal running until June 30, 2026.

Courtois joined Madrid from Chelsea in 2018, having impressed for Belgium at the World Cup in Russia where he won the Golden Glove.

He has gone on to establish himself as Los Blancos' number one after what was an initially tricky start to a second stint in LaLiga - Courtois having previously played for Atletico Madrid on loan from Chelsea.

The 29-year-old has helped Madrid to three trophies, winning LaLiga in 2019-20, that season's Supercopa de Espana and the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup.

 

Since he joined Madrid, only Karim Benzema (148), Casemiro (136) and Luka Modric (135) have made more appearances in all competitions than Courtois (130), who is level with Toni Kroos in that time frame.

Of those appearances, 100 have come in LaLiga, with only five goalkeepers playing in more matches.

Courtois ranks seventh for total saves (238), registering an impressive save percentage of 73.52, ranking him third out of LaLiga goalkeepers to have made over 50 appearances in the past three seasons.

He has conceded 85 league goals in total, with 82 of those coming from attempts inside the box.

A tally of 2,009 successful passes is second behind only Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, proving Courtois' quality with the ball at his feet.

However, the vast majority of these were short passes, with Courtois only landing 338 long passes, which is a better total than just Joel Robles (299).

That being said, it perhaps demonstrates Madrid's tendency to play out from the back, rather than go long, with Courtois only attempting 961 long passes, the third-fewest from the division's goalkeepers to have made over 50 appearances since the start of 2018-19.

Belgium will aim to end a seven-match winless run in their rivalry with Finland when the sides meet in Monday's Euro 2020 Group B clash at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

The Red Devils have defeated Russia 3-0 and Denmark 2-1 in their opening two games and are assured of a place in the knockout stages.

However, Roberto Martinez's side may require a point to secure top spot and a meeting with one of the best third-placed sides in the last 16.

Belgium do not have the best of records against Finland, drawing three and losing four of the last seven meetings since their last win in this fixture 53 years ago.

The world's top-ranked side head into this latest encounter as heavy favourites, though, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is targeting top spot.

"It's prestigious to win the group, so that is something we are definitely going for," Courtois said.

"Sure, the next phase might actually be easier if you're not the group winner, but in football there can always be surprises.

"At the World Cup we seemed to have a tougher time against Japan than against Brazil. You can't try to calculate these things, you just always have to play to win."

Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in their opener – a game overshadowed by the cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Eriksen – before falling to defeat by the same scoreline to Russia.

The Eagle Owls would advance with a win against Belgium, or a draw if Russia lose to Denmark, otherwise they are relying on being one of the best-ranked third-placed sides.

They have mustered just two shots on target across their first two matches, with no team previously managing fewer than four across their three group games in the competition since records began in 1980.

"We created more against Russia, but the final pass was still not ideal," head coach Markku Kanerva said. "We need to improve on that.

"The players are in good spirits and we will do everything to get something out of the game. We all know Belgium's quality and are aware that we are facing a really tough task."

 

 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Finland – Joel Pohjanpalo

Bayer Leverkusen striker Pohjanpalo wrote his name in Finland folklore by scoring his country's first – and so far only – goal at a major tournament with his header against Denmark.

He had another goal cruelly ruled out for offside against Russia and is accountable for 42 per cent of his side's shots at Euro 2020 so far (5/12), with no other Finland player recording more than two attempts.

Kanerva could do with others helping out in attack, such as a not-fully-fit Teemu Pukki, but Finland's hopes of progression seemingly weigh largely on the shoulders of Pohjanpalo on the basis of the last two games.

Belgium – Eden Hazard

Martinez has confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard, who both assisted from the bench against Denmark, will start this concluding group game as they continue to work their way back to full fitness.

Hazard has made five assists in seven appearances for Belgium at the European Championship at an average of one every 98 minutes, which is the best rate of any player to have made five appearances in the competition since 1980, the point from which such records are available.

The Real Madrid forward may have endured a frustrating time of things during his two seasons with Real Madrid, but he showed during his cameo appearance in Copenhagen that he still has plenty to offer in this talented Belgium side.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– None of the last five encounters between Finland and Belgium have produced more than two goals.

– Belgium have won their final group-stage game in each of their last four major tournament appearances (Euros and World Cup), since losing 2-0 against Turkey at Euro 2000.

– Each of Finland's two matches at Euro 2020 has ended 1-0. The only team to have three consecutive matches ending 1-0 in the same European Championship tournament were Greece at Euro 2004, who won the trophy that year.

– Belgium will be looking to win 100 per cent of their group games for the second consecutive major tournament (3/3 at the 2018 World Cup), while it would be the first time they have won all of their group-stage games in a single edition of the Euros.

– After winning four consecutive matches in October and November 2020, Finland have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions (D2 L5), failing to find the net in three of their last four games.

Captain Sergio Ramos told Zinedine Zidane he was "the one and only" as the Real Madrid head coach quit the Spanish giants.

Zidane stood down five days after his team missed out on the LaLiga title to Atletico Madrid, finishing second in the table, two points off top spot.

Madrid ended the season empty handed but have achieved plenty of success during Zidane's two spells in charge, which were separated by a chaotic nine months in which Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari both struggled to get to grips with the job.

It is unclear whether Zidane wants to work again as a coach, or whether he has other plans, but there was an outpouring of thanks from senior Madrid stars on Thursday.

Ramos said on Instagram: "ZZ, the one and only. I wish you all the best. You deserve it, you've earned it.

"Enjoy life, enjoy family. Big hug, mister. Thank you, @zidane."

High hopes and aspirations for Zidane's second stint in charge resulted in just one major title, the 2019-20 LaLiga.

With Cristiano Ronaldo having followed Zidane in leaving at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, success has not come quite as easily as it did previously, with three Champions League titles the highlight of his first period as boss.

Striker and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema wrote: "Thank you bro for everything you have given me both collectively and personally ...

"I am proud and honoured to have been able to move forward and grow with the man that you are. See you ..."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "It has been an honor to have a legend like you as a coach. Thank you for what you have taught me, for the trust you have always had in me and for what we have won together @zidane. Hopefully we meet again. I wish you the best!"

Zidane left Madrid with a 59.65 per cent winning record from his second spell, which began in March 2019, down on the 69.8 per cent he achieved in his previous 149 games at the helm.

It has been tougher without Ronaldo, who left for Juventus but has frequently been linked with a possible return that has yet to come to fruition.

In the first spell, which ran from January 2016 to the end of May 2018, Real Madrid had eight hat-tricks by players in LaLiga – Ronaldo with six of those – and a big chance conversion rate of 45.74 per cent.

Since returning to the club, Madrid have had just one hat-trick in the league, from Benzema, and their big chance conversion rate has dipped to 43.67 per cent overall and just 40.86 per cent in 2020-21 compared to Atletico's 48.19 per cent.

Veteran playmaker Luka Modric, a player whose skillset evokes memories of Zidane in his playing days for Los Blancos, only signed a new contract this week.

Modric must now wait to learn who his coach will be for the coming season, his 10th at Madrid.

The 35-year-old thanked Zidane for backing his ability to run games by saying: "Mister, It's been a great honor playing for you and winning alongside you. You are top. Best of luck"

Zinedine Zidane told Real Madrid to keep going "to the death" after a goalless draw at Getafe hit their LaLiga title prospects.

Having cut Atletico Madrid's lead down to one point by winning El Clasico, Zidane's defending champions were second best at times at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on Sunday.

Hampered by injuries and COVID-19 absences, under-strength Madrid needed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to make six saves to repel a lively Getafe.

That was the highest number of saves from shots on target that the Belgian has made in games for Madrid where he has not conceded a goal, and centre-back Eder Militao was also kept busy.

The Brazilian defender made 10 clearances, the most he has made in a match for Madrid and one short of the highest number made by any player for Los Blancos this season, after Nacho made 11 against Liverpool in the Champions League.

A makeshift back four of captain Marcelo, Victor Chust, Militao and Alvaro Odriozola faced a barrage of crosses from a Getafe side who belied their recent poor form, having previously won just one in 12 LaLiga matches (D4 L7) leading up to the game.

Zidane said after the match: "We have given our maximum. It's a draw but we continue fighting. It will not end here.

"There are many games, but the team that is going to win will need a little of everything, especially having its players.

"We have to do our best. Look at ourselves and not look at others. It's a very difficult, competitive league. Every three days we must always be good. We must go to the death and our mentality will not change."

Atletico's 5-0 win over Eibar earlier on Sunday means their lead is up to three points over Madrid and five over third-placed Barcelona, who have a game in hand.

By coincidence, Atletico also drew 0-0 at Getafe last month.

Toni Kroos was absent for Madrid, with Zidane saying the midfielder had been "in discomfort".

"We have a lot of games and we can't do foolish things. We have to manage that," said the French head coach.

Madrid's unbeaten away run in LaLiga extended to 11 games (W6 D5), their longest run without losing since October 2017 (W13), and the starting XI Zidane fielded had the youngest average age of any of his teams in the league this season, at 26 years and 138 days.

Courtois was immaculate and later offered an intriguing reason for why he felt Madrid had perhaps not performed as many would have expected.

"Playing at Getafe is never easy, the pitch was dry and it was hard to move the ball around," Courtois said, in an interview released on Twitter by the club.

"We tried, we had a couple of good chances, as did they, and that's where I had good saves."

He pointed to the moment Getafe hit the post through a header from Jaime Mata midway through the first half, saying: "I caught it with my finger."

That fingertip touch had not been obvious to the naked eye. What was clear was that this result comes as a jolt, and a reminder that with the likes of Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard, Kroos, Ferland Mendy and Federico Valverde unavailable, even the depth in Madrid's squad is not such to guarantee wins at tricky grounds such as Getafe's.

"In adversity you find the strength of a group," Courtois said. "It is what we are doing all season. You always have to stand up and that's what we do."

Thibaut Courtois says Belgium's players are "hungry" to get their hands on a first-ever World Cup in Qatar next year.

Belgium, ranked number one in the world, finished third at the 2018 tournament, beating England in a play-off after they had lost to eventual winners France at the semi-final stage.

Roberto Martinez's side started their qualification campaign for next year's competition with a 3-1 win over Wales, though they were held to a 1-1 draw by the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Courtois is no stranger to silverware, having won both the Premier League and LaLiga twice, as well as the Europa League back in 2012.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper desperately wants to add the World Cup to that haul - and he is in no doubt his team-mates share his desire.

"I'm very hungry," he told a media conference ahead of Belgium taking on Belarus on Tuesday. "The prizes you are yet to win are the ones you want to win the most.

"The Euros, a World Cup and the Champions League are the ones I haven't won yet. But I think all the guys in the squad are very hungry to play for these prizes.

"Every player is hungry to win those titles, you see that in every team. I have experienced that at Real, the adrenaline that you feel when you win something is like a drug you want to keep on taking.

"In a season, you don't get around to actually winning a trophy that often, so in every final and ahead of every tournament, that hunger is really present."

After a difficult start to his Madrid career upon joining from Chelsea in 2018, Courtois has been one of Los Blancos' most consistent performers over the past two seasons.

He has kept 11 clean sheets in LaLiga this term – a tally bettered only by Jan Oblak and Yassine Bounou – while only those two and Marc-Andre ter Stegen have a better save percentage than Courtois' 72.3 per cent of goalkeepers who have played more than three games.

Courtois has been regularly praised by boss Zinedine Zidane for his game-saving heroics, and the 28-year-old believes a number of tweaks to his game have helped him to become a more "complete goalkeeper".

"I think I've grown in possession, playing with my feet," he said. "At Madrid, with Zidane, we need to play and pass under pressure. I have improved a lot in that.

"Of course, I'm also more experienced now. I read situations a bit better and I've gotten stronger mentally as well.

"It's a combination of all those things. I'm becoming more complete as a goalkeeper, but that is something you need to keep working on.

"It's an evolution, you are always evolving in football."

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