Madrid squashes Betis, eyes Dortmund
Germany international Ozil broke the deadlock against Real Betis on the stroke of half time and then wrapped up the scoring with his second right at the end.
''We know what kind of player Oezil is, everything that he creates (for the team),'' said Madrid assistant Aitor Karanka. ''He has had some (physical problems). Playing all he can is important for him. Now he can rest up for Wednesday's match.''
In between those two strikes, Karim Benzema had put Madrid 2-0 up before Betis pulled a goal back through Jorge Molina's 73rd-minute penalty. The victory is just what Madrid would have been hoping for heading into a crucial run of fixtures over the next 10 days.
On Wednesday they travel to Germany for the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Dortmund before then facing local rivals Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon next weekend. Three days after that derby, Jose Mourinho's men play the second leg against Dortmund at the Bernabeu.
Madrid's win came at a cost, however, with Marcelo and Luka Modric both needing to be substituted for injuries. Karanka said Modric hurt a leg muscle. Benzema was also favoring his right leg after a collision with a defender and was subbed late.
''The injuries are too bad because they are important players for us, but we have a deep squad,'' said Madrid defender Pepe, who went on for Modric in the second half.
With Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Michael Essien missing, Mourinho opted to give midfielder Casemiro his first-team debut and the 21-year-old, who joined the Spanish giants on an initial loan deal from Sao Paulo in January, was soon in the action.
He tried his luck from long range in the eighth minute and won a corner off Betis goalkeeper Adrian. Adrian also did well to tip over a Cristiano Ronaldo effort as Madrid sought the opening goal, but it was not all one-way traffic in the early exchanges and home keeper Diego Lopez, again preferred to club captain Iker Casillas, did superbly to deny Nosa Igiebor.
Europe-chasing Betis continued to give as good as they got as the first half progressed and both sides came within a whisker of taking the lead in the run-up to half time.
In the 39th minute Ronaldo was unfortunate to see a thunderous left-footed effort from 25 yards out come back off a post, and then three minutes later Betis forward Dorlan Pabon also struck the woodwork with a well-struck shot that clipped the bar.
It was Madrid who would get their noses in front though, with Ozil netting just before the break after playing a one-two with Benzema and coolly slotting home at the near post.
Betis coach Pepe Mel opted to make a change at half-time, sending on Molina for Igiebor, but the momentum was with Madrid and Benzema tested Adrian soon after the restart before the France international made it 2-0 in the 56th minute following a rapid counter-attack.
That should have signalled the end of Betis' challenge but the Seville outfit fought back and very nearly managed to steal a point.
They halved the deficit from the spot after Nacho had brought down Ruben Castro inside the area, Molina firing his penalty high into the net, and then almost snatched an 87th-minute equalizer when Castro hit the bar and Raul Albiol denied Pabon from the follow-up.
That was a huge escape for Madrid and they made the most of it with Ozil netting his side's third goal late on with a close-range finish after Jose Maria Callejon's far-post volley had been half-blocked.
The Associated Press was used in this report.