France’s Evra hits out at Benzema ‘lies’

Metz (France) (AFP) – France defender Patrice Evra has dismissed as “lies that have no basis” claims that racism influenced the decision to sideline Karim Benzema from the national squad for Euro 2016.

“We are a country that loves controversies, it’s magnificent. We like to talk about absolutely anything but we need to focus on what’s happening on the pitch. Nothing that has been said has hurt me because these are lies that have no basis,” said the Senegal-born left-back Evra, 35, on Friday.

“It needs to stop. I understand that stuff like this sells, but this is ridiculous,” added the Juventus player at a press conference in the north-eastern city of Metz, where France play Scotland in a friendly on Saturday.

Benzema has faced a backlash since an interview with Spanish media on Wednesday in which he said national coach Didier Deschamps had “bowed to pressure from a racist part of France” by keeping him out of the hosts’ Euro 2016 squad.

Real Madrid striker Benzema, 28, is the leading scorer among all currently active French internationals with 27 goals from 81 caps but was sidelined in April due to his implication in the Mathieu Valbuena sextape blackmail scandal.

His comments followed claims by former French international Eric Cantona that Deschamps was guilty of racial discrimination in his selection.

France’s meeting with Scotland at the Stade Saint-Symphorien will be their final friendly match ahead of Euro 2016.

Les Bleus kick off the European Championship against Romania at the Stade de France next Friday but their preparations have been hit by injuries as well as off-field controversies.

“I am disappointed for those who are injured but the only gift we can give them is to win the Euro and dedicate it to them,” said Evra.

The French squad returned to their home country on Friday after three days training in the Austrian Alps, and Evra admitted that the players are now getting excited about the start of the finals.

“It’s beginning now. I hope we will get a little glimpse against Scotland. We will need to be ready right from the off and we are all desperate for it to start.”

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