Surprise call-up Benzema must finally make his mark with France

PARIS (Reuters) - Karim Benzema’s recall to the France squad for the European Championship undoubtedly adds to the world champions’ already impressive firepower, although the Real Madrid forward has yet to make his mark with the national team.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - France Training - Clairefontaine, Clairefontaine-En-Yvelines, France - May 27, 2021 France coach Didier Deschamps with Karim Benzema during training REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

While his 30 goals in all competitions for Real this season speak volumes, Benzema has rarely shone with Les Bleus in 81 games, notably scoring only two goals across two major competitions at Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup. He had netted 32 and 24 goals respectively for Real in those seasons.

He has, however, matured since his last cap in October 2015, blossoming into a more clinical striker since Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018.

A space in France’s frontline will need to be freed up for Benzema, with Olivier Giroud likely to make way, while coach Didier Deschamps will have to adapt his system.

He might be tempted to drop the 4-3-3 formation he used in the 2018 World Cup final for a more ambitious 4-2-3-1 with Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Kingsley Coman supporting Benzema.

Such a change would put immense pressure on Benzema to deliver goals as only N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba will feature in midfield to shield the defence.

“We will have to find a balance,” said Deschamps after he and Benzema put their differences aside.

Benzema has not played for Les Bleus since 2015. A blackmail scandal - over which he faces trial in October - and his 2016 comment that Deschamps had “bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France” when leaving the forward, a Muslim of Algerian descent, out of the European Championship squad that year, was followed by a lengthy exile from the squad.

He also courted controversy last year when he said of Giroud on Instagram: “You can’t compare karting and Formula One, and I’m being kind.”

Deschamps, however, said that he had weighed every parameter before including Benzema in the squad.

“He arrives in a group who has a common history, in which the atmosphere, on and off the pitch, is good. This is important,” he explained.

“If I didn’t think he would fit in the group, he would not be here.”

Once he has settled in the dressing room, Benzema will be expected to shine on the pitch.

“Karim has had great statistics with his club for a while. But I’ve always known what his level was. What he gives to his club, I expect him to give it to us, too,” said Deschamps.

“Having so many players at that level is a privilege, but it’s not a guarantee.”

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis