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Vinícius and Courtois lead Madrid to 2-0 win at Levante

VILLARREAL, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid needed another goal from Vinícius Júnior and Thibaut Courtois’s goalkeeping to secure a 2-0 win at Levante in the Spanish league on Sunday. For a second straight game, Vinícius once again led his team in attack by scoring in the first half. Courtois protected the advantage when Levante pushed for an equalizer before Karim Benzema scored Madrid’s second goal on the final kick of the match.

“(Courtois) saved us, but just like any goalkeeper that’s what he does,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “We are happy with the opportunities we had... We have to keep going and try to make sure our goalkeeper doesn't have to work as hard.”

The 20-year-old Vinícius has always impressed with his speed and daring to take on rivals one-on-one since his arrival at the Spanish powerhouse from Brazil in 2018. His goal at Levante showed he can — when he has time — finish with class. A corner kick from Luka Modric was cleared by the Levante defense, only to fall to Vinícius unmarked on the left side of the box. Vinícius was left alone to gather the ball in, pick his spot and curl a right-footed shot inside the far post in the 16th minute.

Vinícius had played the full 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad to start the league and was an unused substitute in Madrid’s second match, a 3-2 win over Real Betis. That led fans to wonder if Zidane had lost some confidence in his young player.

But with his team stalled once again against Valladolid on Wednesday, Zidane replaced an ineffective Luka Jovic with Vinícius. The player responded by scoring Madrid’s only goal in a 1-0 win. He was back in the starting lineup on Sunday.

Levante midfielder Nikola Vukcevic almost equalized on the half-hour mark when he headed a corner off the crossbar. Benzema squandered a gift shortly after halftime from Levante’s Rúben Vezo, whose bad pass left Benzema with a shot that hit the upright.

Vinícius’ trouble with finishing resurfaced when he wasted two passes from Marco Asensio and Benzema that set him up near the goal. Zidane swapped him for Lucas Vázquez minutes later. “I am happy to have scored, I was in a good position. (But) I missed some that I cannot afford to, so I need to keep working hard to give it my all for Real Madrid,” Vinícius said.

Levante coach Paco López made two substitutions in the 55th, sending on midfielder Gonzalo Melero and Jorge de Frutos, and his attack began to click. It was then Courtois’ time to shine. When Enis Bardhi’s long strike took a deflection off a Madrid player with Courtois already falling the other way, the Belgium goalkeeper managed to get his foot on the ball anyway and send it wide.

Courtois again had to react quickly when he rushed out to block Carlos Clerc arriving on the left flank after Bardhi played him clear. Madrid, the defending champion, is undefeated in four matches this season.

Zidane was without both of his regular right backs after Dani Carvajal injured ligaments in his right knee and Álvaro Odriozola pulled his left calf during the week. Nacho Fernández played well in their place.

Levante has one win and three losses. “If against Madrid you generate a lot of danger but you don’t score, you are most likely going to lose,” López said. “My team deserved more. For its daring, its courage, for not just trying to defend. I am satisfied with my team’s attitude, but we were playing a powerful opponent.”

The match was played at Villarreal’s De la Cerámica Stadium because Levante’s home stadium is being renovated.

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