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Rafa Benitez hails Real Madrid's 'great character' as they beat Athletic Bilbao to go top of La Liga

Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez praised his side's "character" as they overcame a difficult second half to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 to go top of the Primera Division.

Karim Benzema opened the scoring in a dominant first-half performance from the visitors but the Basques reasserted themselves after the break and drew level through Sabin Merino's diving header, only for Benzema to score again three minutes later.

Not for the first time this season, Madrid were indebted to goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who made two impressive late saves to deny Aritz Aduriz.

But Benitez insisted he was content with his side's display.

He told a press conference: "Undoubtedly I'm happy because we won the game and I think the two halves were very clear and defined for us. In the first half we had possession and created about four or five chances which could have been goals, and in the second we showed great character, because they put us under a lot of pressure.

"This game was different to the others because we showed we had other elements we had not shown before, such as our character and our ability to fight. The great Real Madrid teams always had that element of character and a fighting spirit, as well as playing spectacular football."

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The coach also praised Benzema, who has scored six goals in five matches and is on his way to reaching the tally of 25 goals which his coach challenged him to score at the start of the season.

"He's a great player, he is a different striker because he moves around the area and he is a very good partner for Cristiano Ronaldo," said Benitez.

"It doesn't matter that he is not an old-fashioned striker who just plays in the area. His quality and his movement help us cause a lot of danger. Our objective is that he scores 20-25 goals and he is going in the right direction, but he will also have to add assists to that."

French defender Raphael Varane also sung the praises of Benzema.

"He is playing very well, he always scores and is having a very good start to the season and I hope he continues doing the same," he told Spanish television station Canal Plus.

"This was a very difficult game, we had to run very hard but we are content," said Varane of Madrid's performance.

"We worked very well, we were made to suffer but we did it together, as a team. We battled hard, it's always difficult here in Bilbao as they play with a lot of intensity, but we responded well."

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