Azpilicueta backs Benzema in national anthem row

In the second part of our exclusive interview, the 23-year-old tells of his support for the Real Madrid striker, who has been criticised by a group of French extremists
By Alberto Pinero

Chelsea and Spain full-back Cesar Azpilicueta has backed striker Karim Benzema after he was accused of showing "contempt" for the France shirt.

Benzema had stated that he will not sing the French national anthem despite his "love" for the national side, and was then accused of tarnishing the image of the team by extremist group "Le Front National".

But Azpilicueta, who played in France with Olympique de Marseille for two years before moving to Stamford Bridge, says that the furore is based on personal feelings towards Benzema himself, rather than his beliefs.

"I have seen so many players that have not sung [the anthem], and it seems more a personal issue to do with the player involved," he told

"I know what France is like and these situations matter. There are many different opinions on this, but it's true that they are changing. At the end of the day, they are just opinions and it is a player's personal choice."

Spain do battle with France on Tuesday in the second part of a World Cup qualifying double header, but first must deal with Finland on Friday night.

And Azpilicueta, who won his first senior call-up to Vicente Del Bosque's side for the February friendly against Uruguay, is hoping to use the upcoming games to stake his case for the right-back berth.

"I will try to [become first choice] as best I can," he continued. "There have been other players for this position, like others, and right now I am here and I have to think about the present.

"But I hope to be able to stay here, of course, knowing about the difficulty and the enormous competition I have."

The defender was one of a number of young players included by Del Bosque, with David de Gea, Javi Garcia and Isco also called up, but the 23-year-old believes the squad boasts the perfect balance.

"It's a cycle where you have to introduce young players at the same time as others are finishing their career," he added.

"It's like normal life. The most important thing is doing it little by little. In this team there are 26-year-old players that have played 100 games already.

"There are players of all types, and it helps that there is no drastic change. There's a continuity and that benefits the group, as there is a solid base that can be changed later on."

And he added that his transition from Under-21 level to the main squad was made easier due to the presence of old friends.

"I'm very close to players like Nacho Monreal, who was my team-mate at Osasuna, and Juan Mata, my team-mate at Chelsea," he said. "But I also know a lot of people from the U21s and the game against Uruguay. I can't complain about my reception at all."

The right-back also told of his surprise at the intensity of the senior side's training and their hunger to achieve more success, despite having won three consecutive major international tournaments.

"The rhythm of training and the desire that everybody has surprised me," he revealed. "There are very important players competing for titles at top clubs, and people may think that coming to the national team is a method of relaxation.

"On the contrary! We train and everybody gives their all. They have won what they have won, but they want more. That is one of the greatest values of this national team, that the dressing room never gets complacent."

Azpilicueta played under the tutelage of France boss Didier Deschamps during his stint in Ligue 1, and joked that he is ready to reveal all to Del Bosque should the Roja boss need any assistance, though he admitted he has not been approached just yet.

"At the moment we are only thinking about Finland. But yes, I spent two years with Deschamps and I know how he works," he said.

"If the manager needs it, of course I will give him information that could help the team!

"He's a born competitor, his objection is to win.  He tries to make his team play well, but in training and in games he transmits a winning mentality. Perhaps that has been lacking in France in recent years, but I know that now they have a group that is with him and they have taken his message on board.

"As a player, Deschamps won it all. As a manager he won the league with Marseille after many years [without winning].

"I know that it's going to be a very difficult game because I know he will prepare them thoroughly."