Fit-again Karim Benzema’s path to the World Cup final seems relatively unimpeded. He’s healthy, he was never technically removed from France’s squad, and his club team, Real Madrid, are unlikely to stand in his way.
The reigning Ballon d’Or winner was back training this week after a thigh injury in late November – and featured in a friendly for Real Madrid.
Every team sheet submitted by France on the tournament still had Benzema’s name on it – meaning that there’s no reason he could not fly back for the final.
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Manager Didier Deschamps was asked about the situation following France’s win over Morocco – and gave a frustrated response.
“I don’t really want to answer that question,” he said.
“Next question. I do apologise.”
But regardless of whether or not Benzema is available, there’s no realistic scenario where he plays aa part beyond a last-ditch super sub.
“Olivier Giroud has been performing brilliantly; scoring key goals, working with (Kylian) Mbappe, and the team is functioning well,” Socceroos legend Craig Foster told Wide World of Sports.
“However, the possibility to have the current Ballon d’Or winner coming off the bench, perhaps even in extra time, is immense.
“He’s the finest finisher in world football right now, and in a game that’s likely to be very tight, that’s something that will excite all French fans.”
Giroud has continued to play a key role in the team and was their No.9 when they won the World Cup four years ago, as well. Also, the animosity between Giroud and Benzema can’t be forgotten.
In 2020, Benzema suggested that he was a Formula One car in terms of talent, and Giroud was a go-kart. A year later, Giroud suggested that Benzema returning to the team had not been for the best.
“I have nothing against Karim, but his return to the national team created a tactical imbalance and in our way of playing,” he said.
Whatever your opinion on the two, it’s clear that Giroud’s role in the team is a vital one.
“He’s match-tested, he’s confident, he’s scoring – and he’s collaborating with the rest of the team very well. He’s a huge part of the defensive plan, and he works extremely hard,” Foster said.
“It’s about the sacrifice for the team, and the collective effort. And what Giroud’s brought has been amazing.”
It’s not just the striker, though. France’s work ethic as a team has been incredible, and the instructions from Deschamps show that regardless of each individual player’s lofty standing in world football, they’ll do whatever it takes to win.
“Deschamps has proven himself a master of tournament football, and the Moroccan game was a great example,” Foster said.
“He was willing – and not many managers of a stellar, star-packed team would have been willing – to let Morocco have the ball and dominate the game. They also did the same thing to England for significant periods of time.
“France, despite all their quality, are more than willing to be very patient and allow the other team to dictate play, because they’re so devastating on the counter-attack.
The stats reflect this. Despite a 2-0 win for France, the underdogs ended the match with 62 per cent of the ball – which would usually be unheard for a so-called ‘minnow’ against one of the best teams on earth.
“He’s clearly decided that the one area where perhaps that they have a weakness, or its cost them in the past, is that they won’t be counter-attacked themselves.
“So they give the ball to the other team, and they wait to release Mbappe, through (Antoine) Griezmann, with Giroud and (Ousmane) Dembele there as well.”
Can Benzema play like this? Would France even take the risk? We’ll find out on Monday morning.
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