City looked certain to go through when Riyad Mahrez put them 1-0 up and 5-3 ahead on aggregate but Rodrygo, on as a substitute, scored an incredible late double, his goals in the 90th and 91st minutes sending the tie to extra time.
With City still reeling, Real Madrid landed the knock-out blow as Benzema earned and then converted a spot-kick to snatch a 6-5 win on aggregate, with another remarkable fightback at the Santiago Bernabeu added to the club’s long list of magical European nights.
“It’s the greatness of this club,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti. “It’s a club that doesn’t allow you to give up even if it seems everything is over. It gives you the strength to keep going, to fight, to believe.”
Ancelotti said his players had watched a video before the game, showing eight of Real Madrid’s comebacks this season, for inspiration.
“At the end it said ‘There’s one more left’ and we have achieved it,” Ancelotti said, after becoming the first coach to reach five Champions League finals.
Madrid had already performed the unlikeliest of rescue acts to defeat both Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and Chelsea in the quarter-finals.
Like PSG and Chelsea before them, City will wonder how they emerged as losers from a match they largely controlled and there will be fresh scrutiny on coach Pep Guardiola, who, for all his success, goes another year without leading City to the European glory they so crave.
“It’s tough for us, I can’t deny that,” said Guardiola. “We were so close.”
City’s collapse would have been almost inexplicable had it been against anyone other than Real Madrid, who advance to their 17th final in the competition. They are a victory against Liverpool away from lifting a 14th European Cup.
“Another magic night from the kings of Europe,” read a banner draped over the stand at one end before kick-off but for most of normal time, this match failed to live up to 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 opportunities that he put off target.
In between, Luka Modric and Rodri clashed over a Casemiro challenge and then City stepped forward, squeezing Madrid into errors as Kevin De Bruyne hit Thibaut Courtois from distance before the goalkeeper had to make a smart reaction save from Bernardo Silva.
Real Madrid survived and then improved before the break, Modric causing a roar of satisfaction when he outsprinted De Bruyne to cut off a counter.
Probably their best chance came within seconds of the restart as Dani Carvajal found space down the right but Vinicius Junior shot wide at the back post.