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Real Madrid makes Last 16

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Karim Benzema (right) sparkles for Real Madrid against Sheriff in the Champions League. / SERGEI GAPON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TIRASPOL, Moldova (AFP) — Karim Benzema scored just hours after being found guilty by a French court in a blackmail case as Real Madrid saw off Sheriff Tiraspol 3-0 on Wednesday to reach the Champions League knockout stage.

The France striker notched his team’s third goal of a confident display in Transnistria, as Real exacted revenge for their shock 2-1 loss to Sheriff in Madrid earlier this season.

The victory sends the Spanish giant back to the top of Group D, two points clear of second-placed Inter Milan, which also qualified for the Last 16 after beating Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0.

Madrid now only neesd to avoid defeat in its final group game against Inter at the Santiago Bernabeu to finish first in the group.

“We continue along the right path. I like the way we’re playing,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose side beat Inter 1-0 in their first group game in September.

“The squad is in good shape, everyone is strong physically. It’s important for us to finish top and we’ll be looking to end our group campaign the way we’ve begun it.”

The defeat ends Sheriff’s hopes of progressing, but a memorable debut Champions League campaign has already secured third place and a spot in the Europa League knockout phase.

Benzema, who was given a one-year suspended sentence for complicity in a bid to blackmail his former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, had an early effort ruled out for offside.

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