Manchester City appeared to be through when Riyad Mahrez put them up 1-0 and 5-3 on aggregate, but Rodrygo, who came on as a substitute, scored an incredible late double, sending the tie to extra time.
Real Madrid landed the knock-out blow as Benzema earned and then converted a spot-kick to snatch a 6-5 win on aggregate, adding another remarkable comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu to the club’s long list of magical European nights.
This season, Madrid had already pulled off unlikely comebacks against PSG in the last 16 and Chelsea in the quarter-finals, but given the stakes and how close they were to defeat, this one against Manchester City had to be the most dramatic.
Manchester City, like PSG and Chelsea before them, will be perplexed as to how they lost a game they largely controlled, and there will be a renewed focus on coach Pep Guardiola, who, despite his success, will go another year without leading City to the European glory they crave.
City’s collapse would have been almost inexplicable if it hadn’t been against Real Madrid, who advanced to their 17th final in the competition. They are one win away from winning their 14th European Cup if they defeat Liverpool.
“Another magical night from the kings of Europe,” read a banner draped over one end of the stand before kick-off, but for the most part, this match fell short of the seven-goal thriller at the Etihad Stadium last week.
Real Madrid were the more assertive early on, with Benzema given a couple of difficult chances that only he could have converted in his current form. Instead, he walked over and fired a high-powered shot.
In the interim, Luka Modric and Rodri clashed over a Casemiro challenge, and City stepped up, forcing Madrid into errors as Kevin De Bruyne hit Thibaut Courtois from a distance before the goalkeeper had to make a smart reaction save from Bernardo Silva.
Real Madrid held on and then improved before the break, with Modric causing a roar of delight when he outsprinted De Bruyne to cut off a counterattack.
Their best chance came just seconds after the restart when Dani Carvajal found space down the right, but Vinicius Junior shot wide at the back post.
City were on the back foot as space opened up for Modric in the box, but his finish was hampered by a poor touch. Casemiro was set free by a sloppy Kyle Walker pass, but the weaving Vinicius was unable to find a way through.
When Madrid’s momentum was disrupted by Walker’s injury, City struck, Ilkay Gundogan’s pass cutting through Madrid’s midfield and finding Silva, who danced through to the edge of the box.
Silva attempted to shoot but instead passed the ball to Mahrez, who smashed it hard, early, and past Courtois.
Modric went off, and with him, it appeared, some of Madrid’s belief.
Jack Grealish, who came on as a substitute, could have made it two for City, but Ferland Mendy cleared off the line before another Grealish shot flashed past the post.
It seemed insignificant because Madrid appeared to be dead and buried, but they found a way back from nowhere.
It was the 90th minute when Benzema cushioned a brilliant cross across for Rodrygo to feather in at the near post, and the celebration was only slightly louder than the stadium announcer’s announcement that there would be six minutes of added time.
Madrid only needed one as City, which had been so compact and composed for so long, suddenly sprawled, and all it took was Carvajal to swing a cross into the box, where the diminutive Rodrygo headed in.
When play resumed, Madrid came out on top, and four minutes later, they had a penalty, Benzema tumbling over the tired, lunging leg of Ruben Dias before ignoring City’s attempts at distraction and rolling the penalty into the corner.
Dias’ late flick into the box sailed harmlessly into the hands of Courtois, City’s final attempt failing.
Fernandinho came up just short at the back post after Courtois parried his shot.