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Hot football news today:
Karim Benzema and France: A story of light and shade until the very end
“I have made the efforts and the mistakes to be where I am today and I am proud of it! I’ve written my story and ours is coming to an end,” Benzema wrote on Twitter as well as on Instagram, announcing that he would no longer wear the French national team jersey.
On his 35th birthday, perhaps not so coincidentally, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner called time on his international career, hours after France played an epic, albeit losing, World Cup final against Argentina.
Benzema was injured and withdrawn from the tournament a few days before Les Bleus’ opening game against Australia but was still officially in the squad for the World Cup.
That was the latest chapter in a story of bad luck and missed opportunities for a player who, thanks to his talent and intelligence, should have shone on the international stage for many years.
From disenchantment to redemption
Throughout his career, Benzema has never been a unanimous favourite with the French national team. This goes back a long way.
On November 15th, 2006, France faced Greece in a friendly. Then-coach Raymond Domenech called him up along with a certain Gonzalo Higuain (35), born in Brest to Argentine parents.
At the time, Higuain was at River Plate and in advanced contact with Real Madrid where he signed the following year and would go on to be in competition with Benzema from 2009 onwards. In the end, Higuain opted for the Albiceleste.
Fast forward a few years and Benzema and France are on the final stretch before Euro 2012 gets underway – the first international competition after the fiasco that was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which saw the French players in mutiny with the management.
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Benzema scored in a friendly against Estonia on the 5th of June. What he didn’t know at the time was that he would then have to wait 16 months to score his next (and 16th) goal for Les Bleus. An incredible 1222 goalless minutes that turned him into a target.
He was criticised, mocked and even hated. The extreme right was always quick to blame him for his lack of attachment to the national jersey because of his Algerian roots and this became irrational. Unfairly, he was associated with the issues in South Africa, where he had not even played. Few would have thought that he would be called up again a few years later despite the French team’s excellent results.
Yet Benzema redeemed himself. On November 19th, 2013, he scored France’s second goal in the second leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off against Ukraine (3-0). Remarkably, France had been beaten 2-0 in the first leg and managed to turn it around to qualify.
It was the founding match of the Didier Deschamps era.
In Brazil, at the World Cup, the. Real Madrid striker finished as the top scorer for the team with three goals. Even though they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Germany, the eventual winners. France made amends for South Africa and Benzema was part of this resurrection.
But that redemption arc ended in 2015.
Sextapes and scandal
With the 2016 Euros on home soil in sight, it would be difficult to find more motivation for. Benzema to continue his crescendo with the national team. But all that momentum was completely stalled by the Mathieu Valbuena (38) sex-tape affair.
In the midst of a blackmail scheme, Benzema was embroiled in a muddy tale that only ended in June 2022 with a one-year suspended prison sentence. While Valbuena’s international career was cut short, Benzema would return to the national team… 6 years later.
Under pressure from the political authorities, led by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Federation President Noel Le Graet and Deschamps dismissed the striker from the side for a while.
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But instead of keeping a low profile, Benzema retaliated by claiming in Marca that the coach “gave in under pressure from racist elements in France,” just a few days after winning the Champions League. This only fuelled the fires of tension more.
As expected, he was not selected for the squad to compete in the. Euros, where France lost in the final against Portugal.
Les Bleus won back the French public but without Benzema.
However, his performances at club level continued to make him an unignorable contender and his supporters were clamouring for his return to the national team.
Neither clearly dismissed nor fully considered, Benzema would not be taken to the 2018 World Cup in. Russia either. As such, he missed out on becoming a world champion as France beat Croatia in the final. His use of social media to lash out at both Deschamps and Olivier Giroud (36) had not helped relations along the way.