TIRASPOL (REUTERS) – Real Madrid booked a berth in the Champions League knockout stages with a match to spare after strolling to a 3-0 win at Moldovan rivals Sheriff Tiraspol in their lop-sided Group D clash on Wednesday (Nov 24).
Real top the group on 12 points from five games, two more than second-placed Inter Milan with the result also sending the Italian champions through after they beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0.
Third-placed Sheriff, who stunned Real 2-1 in the reverse fixture in September, are third on six points and assured of carrying on in the Europa League after the winter break.
Fourth-placed Shakhtar have one point.
France striker Karim Benzema, who was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence earlier on Thursday, had a goal chalked off in the 10th minute for offside as Real laid siege to the home side.
David Alaba fired the visitors ahead with a deflected free kick in the 30th minute, with a shot from 22 metres leaving Sheriff goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis stranded after it clipped Cristiano’s outstretched foot.
Midfielder Toni Kroos doubled Real’s lead on the stroke of halftime with a fine shot which cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar after a flowing move left the German midfielder with time and space to pick his spot.
Benzema made it 3-0 with a sublime effort from the edge of the penalty area into the bottom corner after he was teed up by left back Ferland Mendy in the 55th minute, as Real kept their foot on the pedal.
The home side came close to pulling one back shortly after the hour as Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois parried Adama Traore’s low drive and Sebastien Thill hit the post with a glancing header in the follow-up.
Athanasiadis twice thwarted substitute Marco Asensio in the dying minutes with a pair of brilliant saves as Real breezed comfortably into the business end of Europe’s premier club competition for the 25th successive year.
Real are at home to Inter in their final group match while Sheriff visit Shakhtar on Dec 7.