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Football Whispers
 By Matt McGinn

Luka Modric was Madrid's midfield maestro in dominant 6-0 win at APOEL

Real Madrid qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 6-0 annihilation of APOEL in Cyprus. Luka Modric, Karim Benzema (with a brace), and Nacho put the visitors four goals up at the break, before Cristiano Ronaldo scored a double in the second half to become the first Real Madrid player to score 100 goals in European competitions.

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Two goals for Benzema go some way to vindicating Zinedine Zidane's continued faith in the striker. He is now the fifth highest scorer in the Champions League with 53 goals, behind Ronaldo (113), Lionel Messi (97), Raul (71) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (56).

Madrid made a record-breaking start. It was the first time they have scored four goals in the first half of an away match in the Champions League.


Tottenham's victory in Dortmund means that Mauricio Pochettino's side only need a draw at home to APOEL to finish at the top of Group H. Madrid are likely to finish as runners-up and, theoretically, face stronger opposition in the next round. Yet that was no problem last season as they finished behind Borussia Dortmund in the group and still went on to lift the trophy.

Manager rating out of 10

8 -- Zidane picked a stronger team than many expected. He ostensibly feels that consistent selection, as opposed to wanton rotation, is the best way to inject rhythm in to his side.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Kiko Casilla, 8 -- APOEL did not test his shot-stopping ability, but Keylor Navas' deputy commanded his box with calmness and authority, and sought to distribute quickly. This was his seventh consecutive start for Real Madrid. He is closing in on the eight-match starting streak he had at the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- Alert to prevent counterattacks, not for beating in one-on-ones. His energy was quite spectacular considering this was only his second match after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Time-wasted his way to a yellow card at the end of the match, and will therefore miss the meaningless fixture against Dortmund.

DF Nacho, 8 -- The best backup in the business. Another classy performance topped off by a goal, even if it was the slightest of touches.

DF Raphael Varane, 8 -- Pass accuracy of 94.8 percent was higher than any other starting player. It is difficult to assess defenders' performances in matches against blunt opposition. But as the saying goes: "You can only play what is in front of you".

DF Marcelo, 7 -- The exuberant full-back has been the most striking symbol of Madrid's lack of confidence in recent weeks, but this was a promising performance. Provided an enticing cross for Ronaldo to score the fifth goal shortly after the start of the second half.

Luka Modric has been with Real Madrid since 2012.
Luka Modric manned Madrid's midfield and scored from distance in a pristine performance in the 6-0 win at APOEL.

MF Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Fairly anonymous in an old-fashioned inside-right position that created space for Carvajal on the flank. Real Madrid had 71 percent of possession, much of it in APOEL territory. Matches in which Madrid camp in the opposition half do not suit Lucas' Road Runner directness.

MF Luka Modric, 9 -- Exhibited the very best of his technical repertoire to open the scoring with a 30-yard volley. He has scored 12 goals for Los Blancos. Ten of those have been from outside the box. The Croatia international also applied his nous to defensive duties. He made six interceptions, more than any other Madrid player.

MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- There was no hint of the Steven Gerrard/Frank Lampard incompatibility conundrum in the Madrid midfield. Kroos and Modric moved seamlessly to an effective pairing in the absence of Casemiro.

MF Marco Asensio, 7 -- The Mallorcan was placed on the left of midfield on the team sheet. In reality, he drifted inside, here, there and everywhere. Industrious and busy, but like Lucas, he flourishes when there is more space in which he can operate.

FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Exchanged a gleeful high-five with Zidane upon scoring his first goal -- a display of gratitude for his compatriot's faith. A good performance, but the true significance of Benzema's night in Cyprus will become clear when Madrid return to domestic action. It might just have a liberating effect.

FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- Appeared increasingly perturbed in the first half as he remained absent from the scoresheet that his teammates were filling up. His demeanour changed remarkably after his headed goal in the 49th minute. The Champions League continues to be Ronaldo's tonic this season.


DF Theo Hernandez, 7 -- Introduced as the game opened up and APOEL tired, which suited his direct style.

MF Dani Ceballos, 6 -- There was a clamour for his inclusion from the start. It is difficult to make a significant impact on a match in which the teams are already separated by six goals, but the 21-year-old was neat and tidy.

FW Borja Mayoral, 6 -- Missed from close range after a surging run and cross from Theo.

Matt McGinn is ESPN FC's Real Madrid blogger. Twitter: @McGinn93


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