Vinicius takes Real Madrid closer to title

Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid CF celebrates after scoring his team's sixth goal during the LaLiga Santander match between Real Madrid CF and Levante UD at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 12, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.

Karim Benzema scored his 323rd goal on Thursday to draw level with Raul Gonzalez as Real Madrid's second-highest scorer, as Los Blancos thrashed Levante thanks to a hat-trick from Vinicius Junior.

Benzema netted in the first half of the team's 6-0 rout of last-place Levante in the Spanish league, with Madrid having secured the title a few rounds ago.

The result sealed Levante's relegation after five consecutive years in the first division.

Vinicius Junior, Benzema's trusted attacking partner all season, scored a hat-trick for Madrid as they continue to prepare for the Champions League final against Liverpool in Paris on May 28, when they will try to win a record-extending 14th European title.

Benzema is now 128 goals shy of the 451 scored by Cristiano Ronaldo, who played at the club until 2018.

Benzema's close-range header in the 19th minute off a cross by Vinicius gave the French striker his league-leading 27th goal, which is nine better than any other player in the competition this season.

It was the 20th goal in the last 15 matches in all competitions for Benzema, who has been key in the team's run to the Champions League final, scoring decisive goals in every knockout round of the European tournament, including two hat tricks.

He could have added another goal on Thursday but unselfishly fed Vinicius the ball for the team's fifth after clearing the goalkeeper inside the area.

"The connection with Benzema has been very good all season long," said Vinicius, who now is the league's third-best scorer with 17 goals. "Karim has had a great season and hopefully he can finish it by winning the Ballon d'Or (award for best player)."

Vinicius netted his first goal in the first half before closing the scoring in the final minutes for his maiden hat-trick with Madrid. Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo scored their goals before halftime.

Benzema was replaced in the 75th along with Luka Modric, who set up three of Madrid's goals.

Benzema, Modric, Mendy, Vinicius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had not started in the league derby against city rivals Atletico Madrid on Sunday, a game Atletico won 1-0 at home.

Atletico did not give Madrid a guard of honour for the league champions at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but Levante's players did on Thursday, lining up by the sideline and applauding Madrid's players as they entered the field at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Real Sociedad defeated Cadiz 3-0 to guarantee a place in a European competition for the third-straight season.

Alexander Sorloth, Adnan Januzaj and Portu scored a goal each for the Basque Country club, which will play in either the second-tier Europa League or the third-tier Conference League.

Sociedad are in sixth, two points behind Real Betis and three points ahead of Villarreal.

Betis have already secured a Europa League place by winning the Copa del Rey, so the second Spanish berth in the competition will go to either Sociedad, Villarreal or Athletic Bilbao.

Cadiz will go into the final two rounds two points outside the relegation zone.

Villarreal moved closer to guaranteeing their own European spot with a 5-1 rout at Rayo Vallecano.

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