MADRID (AP) The wait was finally over for Eden Hazard, who made his Spanish league debut with Real Madrid in a 3-2 win over Levante on Saturday.
Karim Benzema scored twice and Casemiro added another goal as Madrid picked up its first win after two consecutive draws in the league, including against Valladolid in its first match of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Hazard, Madrid’s top signing since it lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, had missed the first three games because of a thigh injury sustained the day before the opener. The Belgium star came off the bench in the second half, with Madrid 3-1 ahead.
The victory moved Madrid within a point of league leader Atletico Madrid, the only team with three wins after three matches. Atletico visits Real Sociedad later Saturday.
“We couldn’t lose points here again,” said Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a crucial save in stoppage time to preserve the win. “We played well in the first half but couldn’t maintain the same dynamic in the second.”
Levante was coming off two consecutive wins – against Villarreal and Valladolid – after opening with a loss at Alaves.
With Hazard still not up to full speed and Gareth Bale suspended because of a red card, Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane started with Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez flanking Benzema in the attack. Zidane also couldn’t count on Luka Modric, Marco Asensio and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon because of injuries.
Hazard hadn’t played a competitive game since joining from Chelsea in the summer. Madrid acquired the 28-year-old playmaker for a reported fee of nearly 100 million euros (now $111 million) plus add-ons, making him the Spanish club’s most expensive signing ever.
Hazard was loudly cheered by home fans when he entered the match in the 60th, and a few minutes later he nearly scored with a shot that forced a difficult save by Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez.
“Eden already showed what he can do,” Courtois said. “He has the quality to create problems to opponents in the attack.”
Benzema created most of the chances for Madrid early on, and finally opened the scoring with a close-range header in the 25th minute after a well-placed cross by Dani Carvajal. The French striker added to the lead six minutes later with a shot from inside the area after a nice through ball by James Rodriguez.
Casemiro closed the first-half scoring by completing a pass from Vinicius Junior in the 40th.
Levante was able to rally in the second half, with striker Borja Mayoral scoring less than five minutes after halftime and Gonzalo Melero pulling the visitors closer with a header in the 75th. Courtois had to make a difficult save off another header in stoppage time to keep Levante from equalizing.
“Madrid came out giving everything it had, but in the second half we played better and almost scored the equalizer in the end,” said Mayoral, who is playing on loan from Real Madrid and did not celebrate his goal at the Bernabeu.
Benzema almost completed his hat trick when he hit the post in the 57th. Lucas Vazquez had also hit the post in the first half.
Vinicius Junior had a goal disallowed for offside in the 62nd. The Brazilian also missed a clear chance from close range in the 70th.
Madrid visits Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday, then plays at Sevilla in the Spanish league next Sunday.
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