Sports

Benzema sets sights on World Cup after leading France to Nations League triumph

…as Deschamps hails stiker’s ‘improved’  maturity

Karim Benzema waited more than five years to make his France comeback and now the Real Madrid striker is in a hurry to win his first major trophy with Les Bleus.

Benzema helped France clinch the Nations League with goals in both the semi-final and in Sunday’s final, but unlike his striking partners Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, he was not in the squad who won the 2018 World Cup.

Playing his second competition after more than five years out of the team following a blackmail scandal, over which he faces trial later this month, the 33-year-old showed he was in the form of his life.

“We are going to enjoy this trophy and then go get the World Cup (next year),” Benzema said following France’s 2-1 victory over Spain at the San Siro after he netted the equaliser with a superb curling effort.

While France came under pressure against a possession-obsessed Spain team, they did not panic and Benzema and Mbappe’s clinical finishing made the difference.

Coach Didier Deschamps said that Benzema’s contribution to the team extended beyond his goals.

“Karim is an essential player, he’s proved it over the last two games,” said Deschamps.

“He’s in line with what his been doing with his club. He’s extremely fit, way more than he was before, and he’s more mature. He’s got this rage to win that he communicates to the other players.”

Deschamps is clearly counting on Benzema to lead France’s attack at the World Cup finals in Qatar next year.

“He is an important player for the future. Beyond his obvious talent, he has the character and the mental strength that are key at the highest level,” he said after Les Bleus avoided defeat for the seventh time this year having conceded the opening goal.

“I’m very proud of my work for a long time. Coming back to this team and winning makes me happy, yes,” said Benzema, who has now scored six goals for France since his return, with only Antoine Griezmann matching that tally.

“This title gives me even more ambition for the future with this team. Because this team has great potential.”

France need one victory against either Kazakhstan at home or away to Finland next month to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Meanwhile, France coach, Didier Deschamps heaped praise on Benzema after the once-exiled forward played a key role in Les Bleus’ Nations League triumph.

Benzema scored France’s equaliser in a 2-1 win over Spain which handed the world champions the trophy, and Deschamps was delighted with his striker.

“Karim is a crucial player and he has proved over two matches that he has very obvious talent, it’s there for all to see,” Deschamps told reporters.

“He has improved in different areas, he’s clinical, he plays his part in the build up.”

Real Madrid forward Benzema had been banished from the national team for over five years but was recalled by Deschamps ahead of Euro 2020.

He performed impressively in the Nations League Final Four in Italy, pulling a goal back with France two down in their 3-2 win over Belgium on Thursday and levelling the scores on Sunday night with a sumptuous curler just after Mikel Oyarzabal had put Spain ahead.

“From a personal perspective he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured. He’s been at the highest level for a long while now and I’m delighted he’s able to celebrate tonight with France.”

*Courtesy: Reuters & AFP

 

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