Karim Benzema returned to French squad amid much fanfare, but his comeback has not been a fairy tale

The Real Madrid forward has struggled to replicate his club form as he failed to produce the fireworks while playing alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

Karim Benzema in a file photo; Credit: Twitter@Benzema
By Karthik Raman | Jun 23, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

Karim Benzema’s inclusion in France’s Euro 2020 squad was one of the big topics leading up to the tournament’s commencement. On the back of his impressive domestic form, the Real Madrid striker won his way back into the French national team. Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Santiago Bernabeu to Juventus, the Los Blancos have turned to the Frenchman for goals and he has consistently delivered it. Benzema was brilliant last season, scoring 30 goals in all competitions to help Real Madrid finish second in La Liga and reach the semifinals of the Champions League.

It was not a one-off season for him, as he scored 27 goals in all competitions the previous season and another 30 goals in the 2018-19 season. To put it into perspective, he has found the back of the net 87 times in his last 147 appearances for Real Madrid. Benzema has taken over the responsibility from Ronaldo to be the team’s premier goal scorer. Hence, it was not a surprise to seem him being included in the final squad for the European Championships.

More than anything, fans were excited to see an in-form forward lead the team in a major competition. Les Bleus won the 2018 World Cup in Russia with their main striker Olivier Giroud playing through the entire tournament without scoring a single goal. It was the only grey area in the French national team and that problem seemed to have been solved with the inclusion of Benzema. However, the Real Madrid forward has struggled to replicate his club’s success at Euro 2020.

An upgrade to Giroud

It was a comeback that was supposed to give the world champions a fresh outlook. Benzema is unquestionably an upgrade to the hard-working Giroud. The Chelsea forward contributes to the team in his own way. He’s a willing runner who can use his movements to stretch the opposition’s defence. Giroud’s link-up play is remarkable, as he is known for getting the best out of his attacking teammates. The 2018 World Cup winner is also a good header of the ball and is efficient in closing down the opponents when not in possession.

Benzema also does most of those things. He is good with his runs behind the defence as he often drifts wide, freeing up Ronaldo to score goals during his time at Santiago Bernabeu. The Frenchman is also good with the link-up play. Benzema’s heading abilities may not be as strong as Giroud’s, but he has scored his fair share of headed goals. Above all, Benzema is a proven goal scorer, something Giroud has struggled with.

The 33-year-old is used to playing alongside world class players in Madrid so the idea of him linking up with Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe excited many people. The Real Madrid striker once again returning to the France setup was celebrated by many fans, who eagerly awaited to see the “Golden Triangle” – Griezmann, Mbappe and Benzema – take the tournament by storm. But it has not been the case – atleast till now.

Slow start

On the back of scoring 30 goals in 46 appearances for Madrid over the course of last season, Benzema was touted to be a definite starter in Didier Deschamps’s match-day squad. After a five-year exile from the national team, a lot of expectations surrounded the striker in his opening match against Germany.

In Benzema’s defence, it is not easy to start your major tournament against a team like Germany. However, France did well and they managed to win the match 1-0, thanks to an own goal by defender Mats Hummels. He did find the back of the net in the opener, but unfortunately, the goal was ruled out for offside.

In their next match, the 2016 runners-up were held to a 1-1 draw by Hungary. Griezmann scored the crucial equaliser in the second half for the Les Bleus. But the Real Madrid striker looked a shadow of his usual self in that game, failing to make a noticeable impact. Benzema’s comeback has been no fairy tale as he struggled so far to make a mark for his national team in one of the biggest stages. It has not just been him, the entire French squad have not been able to find the form that helped them finish runners-up in Euro 2016 and champions in the 2018 World Cup.

Deschamps’s side has managed just one goal from their players in this competition till now. Griezmann scored that in the 1-1 draw against Hungary, while the other goal they scored was an own goal in the opener against Germany. France have one of the most complete teams in the tournament, with world-class players present in the squad from defence to attack. However, for some reason, they have been unable to reach their previous heights.

Two matches may be too soon to raise the alarm. France have a tendency to grow into the competition as the tournament progresses. Maybe it could be the case with their star striker Benzema as well. He might start to find his feet with more game time under his belt. Next up is a reunion with Ronaldo in Budapest when France face Portugal in their final Group F fixture. It could be the perfect opportunity for the forward and his team to silence their critics.

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