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No goals, no assists: Benzema's France return for Euro 2020 is no fairy tale

3:15 AM EDT 6/23/21
Karim Benzema France
The Real Madrid forward returned to Les Bleus amid much fanfare, but there have been no fireworks on the field as yet alongside Mbappe and Griezmann

Karim Benzema won his way back into the France national team thanks to his ability to compensate at Real Madrid - at least partially - for the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Since the Portugal international moved to Juventus in 2018, Benzema has enjoyed three of his best four seasons at Santiago Bernabeu. Indeed, with 87 strikes in 147 appearances, he has been the player that Los Blancos have turned to for goals.

Having seen the 32-year-old defy his ageing legs to rattle in 30 goals in 46 appearances for Madrid over the course of last season, France coach Didier Deschamps was compelled to offer the veteran forward a recall more than five years after his part in a sex-tape scandal involving former international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena saw him frozen out of the squad.

It was a return that was supposed to bring an additional dimension to the world champions, who had seen Olivier Giroud go through the whole of their successful tournament at the 2018 World Cup in Russia without even mustering a shot on target.

With Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in support, even before Benzema had kicked a ball upon his return to the national side the attack was being hailed as the ‘Golden Triangle’.

Meanwhile, the news that Benzema was once again in the France fold was celebrated by a section of fans eager to see the Lyon-born attacker grace the national team. Nike could not cope with the demand as shirts bearing his name quickly sold out in Paris and beyond.

One storekeeper commented: “There’s never been such a big request for a jersey of France since I opened the shop. It’s more than for Ronaldo’s top when he moved to Juventus. It’s unheard of.”

So far, though, the outcome has been far from gold standard.

France have scored just a single goal in each of their Euro 2020 games this summer – one an own goal from Germany’s Mats Hummels and the other a Griezmann strike after Mbappe punished the Hungary defence for allowing a long ball to bounce.

Benzema’s comeback has been no fairy tale, and as he prepares for a reunion with Ronaldo in Budapest when France and Portugal meet in the final Group F fixtures, he is a man under pressure.

His raw numbers are unimpressive. Four games played – a total of 305 minutes – for no goals or no assists.

Furthermore, big opportunities have been spurned, most notably a penalty he saw saved against Wales in a warm-up game and a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 1-1 draw against Hungary that he planted past the post.

“He has to score that chance,” Alain Perrin, one of the striker’s former coaches at Lyon, told L’Equipe with reference to the latter of those situations.

Indeed, with an expected goals [xG] total of 2.9, he finds himself grossly underperforming in front of goal.

Meanwhile, his chief rival for the No.9 shirt, Giroud, has scored twice in just 74 minutes on the field since the France squad got together.

The Chelsea striker needs only five goals to match Thierry Henry’s scoring record of 51 for his country, yet he is unlikely to be afforded many more minutes to reach that total.

Unfancied at Stamford Bridge, his lack of game time is finally adversely affecting his use with Les Bleus, where he has for so long been a fulcrum of the attack even when he has not been finding the net.

Benzema has yet to capitalise; his lack of chemistry with Antoine Griezmann seen as an issue that is holding France back.

“That’s your interpretation of the situation but not mine,” Deschamps retorted on Tuesday when asked about the problem. “It’s possible that we can be better in our sequences, but there is also Kylian Mbappe and the relationship between Benzema and Griezmann also depends on those playing behind them, who must give them the ball faster.”

Inside the camp, meanwhile, there is a feeling that Benzema just needs one goal to get off and running.

“When he scores the first, it will be like a tap,” Lucas Digne told the media on Monday.

Indeed, Benzema has scored only twice for France – both against Armenia – since netting the first in an October 2014 friendly against Portugal.

Break that sequence to knock out former team-mate Ronaldo, and his ‘second’ international career can finally begin.

Fail and the cries for Giroud will only become louder.