Paris (AFP) – Karim Benzema last played for France over five years ago, but on Tuesday at the age of 33 and facing trial for his role in a blackmail plot, he was handed a surprise recall to the provisional France squad for the European Championships.
The Real Madrid forward had not been selected since the sextape scandal involving his former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena broke in 2015.
His hopes of a recall seemed to recede in January, when French prosecutors said they had decided to send Benzema and four others for trial.
The case revolves round a plot to extort money from Valbuena by threatening to make a sex video public.
Benzema made the last of his 81 appearances for France in a friendly against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice to take his international tally to 27.
After that France coach Didier Deschamps refused to pick the striker until he included Benzema on Tuesday.
Benzema missed France’s run to the final of the last Euros in 2016, and missed out on the French glory at the 2018 World Cup.
“As long as Didier Deschamps is coach I will have no chance of returning to the French team,” Benzema said ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
His manager at Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, the star of the France team Deschamps captained to victory in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, said in March that he was bewildered by the continued exile.
“How can you understand it? I don’t understand it, you don’t understand it, there are many people who don’t understand it,” Zidane said.
With UEFA allowing nations to name 26 players instead of the normal 23 for the Euros to relieve the pressure of potential Covid-19 cases, and Benzema in blazing form for Real, Deschamps has had a change of heart.
– ‘Nothing surprises me about Karim’ –
Benzema was seen as a future Galactico when he joined Real from Lyon in 2009. But for much of his time at the club he played a supporting role to Cristiano Ronaldo.
In Ronaldo’s last season at Real, 2017-18, Benzema scored five Liga goals. Once Ronaldo left for Juventus, he scored 21 goals in each of the next two seasons.
This season he has 20 with a game to go, the third best tally in La Liga, eight behind Lionel Messi and one behind Gerard Moreno of Villarreal.
Benzema, though far less eye-catching than Ronaldo, has again shown this season that he is a big-match player.
When he returned from injury against Atletico Madrid in early March, Real were third, eight points behind their neighbours.
He scored an 88th minute equaliser, the start of a burst of nine goals in seven Liga matches as Real closed to within a point of Atletico.
Real enter the final round two points behind and with a chance of the title.
Benzema also scored an equaliser as Real salvaged a home draw against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final.
“Nothing surprises me about Karim,” said Zidane after that game.
In the return leg, Chelsea brought on Benzema’s nemesis, Olivier Giroud, as they saw out a 2-0 victory.
Giroud, who is 34, was the main beneficiary of Benzema’s absence, collecting 107 France caps, 44 international goals and a World Cup winner’s medal.
For a while, Benzema targeted Giroud on social media saying that while he was Formula One, Giroud was a ‘go-kart’.
Yet in recent weeks the two men have been complimenting each other and insisting there is no feud.
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