The pictures & story as Karim Benzema scores scorcher on Al Ittihad debut

  • Karim Benzema made his debut for Al Ittihad against Esperance de Tunis in the Arab Club Champions Cup on Thursday
  • The reigning Ballon d'Or holder decided the 2-1 win for Al Ittihad
  • N'Golo Kante and Jota also featured for the Saudi Pro League champions
Karim Benzema got his Al Itthad career underway in the Arab Club Champions Cup
Karim Benzema got his Al Itthad career underway in the Arab Club Champions Cup / -/GettyImages

Karim Benzema could scarcely hide his discomfort as his new Al Ittihad teammates passionately serenaded him on the team bus.

Squirming in his seat alone in the back row, Benzema decidedly kept his headphones firmly lodged into his ears as the rest of the coach participated in a rhythmic chant in honour of the Ballon d'Or winner during pre-season.

Yet, Benzema will have to quickly find a coping mechanism for such adulation if his debut for Al Ittihad is anything to go by.

Without any pre-season friendlies to sate the expectant fans of the reigning Saudi Pro League champions, here's how the 35-year-old fared in his first outing for the Tigers against Esperance de Tunis in the Arab Club Champions Cup on Thursday night.

Karim Benzema's performance vs ES Tunis

For almost ten fleeting minutes, Oussema Bouguerra threatened to steal the spotlight on Benzema's night. In a move that was jarringly against the run of play, Anayo Iwuala's cross sat up for Bouguerra to crash into the top corner, giving ES Tunis a scarcely deserved 26th-minute lead.

However, Benzema did not become the first Frenchman to win the Ballon d'Or since Zinedine Zidane for no reason. Given licence to roam as one of two strikers in a narrow 4-2-2-2, Benzema routinely drifted towards his favoured zone in the left half-space.

From that area of the penalty box, Benzema left the helpless Ghaith Ouahabi swiping at thin air as he chopped onto his stronger right foot. The pair had clashed earlier in the match, with Benzema wagging his finger in Ouahabi's face to show his disdain for the midfielder's attempts to buy a foul. In the 35th minute, Benzema's digits became clenched in a fist as he celebrated a pinpoint cross onto Abderrazak Hamdallah's head.

Hamdallah finished top scorer of the Saudi Pro League last season as Al Ittihad won the title. This term, he may be able to improve upon his tally of 21 goals with Benzema as a provider.

The former Real Madrid star opened his own scoring account shortly after the interval. Again cutting in from the left flank, Benzema curled the ball over Amenallah Memmich's feeble dive.

Nuno Espirito Santo took off his new number nine for the final 20 minutes, sparking an unmistakable shift in momentum. In the absence of Benzema, the Tigers clung on to a 2-1 advantage to open their campaign in Arab Club Champions Cup with a victory.

Pictures of Benzema's Al Ittihad debut

Karim Benzema clashes with Ghaith Ouahabi
Karim Benzema clashes with Ghaith Ouahabi / -/GettyImages

Karim Benzema
Benzema prepares to pull the trigger his eventual goal / -/GettyImages

Karim Benzema
Benzema wheels away in celebration... / -/GettyImages

Karim Benzema celebrates with his Al Ittihad teammates
...before being embraced by his Al Ittihad teammates / -/GettyImages

How did N'Golo Kante and Jota fare vs ES Tunis?

N'Golo Kante came on in the second half for Al Ittihad / -/GettyImages

Benzema wasn't the only new arrival to make his debut for the Tigers on Thursday night.

Former Celtic forward Jota started behind Benzema but got lost in the Frenchman's shadow. As an inverted left winger, Jota is used to occupying the same areas into which Benzema so often floats. Against ES Tunis, the 24-year-old failed to create a single chance and delivered just one shot.

N'Golo Kante replaced the underwhelming Jota at half time and prioritised safety over showmanship during his cameo. Kante only misplaced two passes but attempted just 33 in 45 minutes. The famously combative World Cup winner failed to even make a tackle while he was draped in Al Ittihad's changed white strip.

Al Ittihad's Arab Club Champions Cup fixtures

Al Shorta defeated CS Sfaxien courtesy of a second-half penalty from Alaa Abdul-Zahra in the match between the other teams in Al Ittihad's Group A of the Arab Club Champions Cup.

Benzema's side are guaranteed to play two more first-round matches but are one win away from advancing to the knockout stage. The top two teams from each group qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played between 5-6 August.

If Al Ittihad made it all the way to the final, scheduled for Saturday 12 August, the Tigers would have less than 48 hours to recover before their opening game in the Saudi Pro League against Al Raed on Monday 14 August.

Date / Kick-off time (BST)



30/07/2023 / 20:00

Al Ittihad vs CS Sfaxien

King Fahd Stadium, Taif

02/08/2023 / 16:00

Al Shorta vs Al Ittihad

King Fahd Stadium, Taif