World Cup: Karim concern

World Cup: Karim concern
Karim Benzema scored 24 goals for Real Madrid this season.

If France are to fulfil their potential on the big stage in this summer's World Cup, Karim Benzema will have to do likewise.

Coach Didier Deschamps has favoured a 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid formation, with Benzema as the focal point and he is likely to be supported from the wings in Brazil by Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena.

That will place fierce scrutiny on a man going into his first World Cup, and whose fluctuating confidence makes him an unpredictable outlet.

Benzema scored nine minutes into his France debut, against Austria in 2007, and has 19 goals in 65 caps overall.


But he went 16 months without an international goal before he finally found the net in last October's 6-0 friendly win over Australia.

He was then on target in the final Group I qualifier against Finland and the dramatic second leg of the play-off against Ukraine, which France won 3-0 to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit.

He added a clinical half-volley in March's friendly win over Holland, a strike of which he admitted: "A few months ago, it might have gone over the bar."

Benzema's performance in that 2-0 win certainly impressed Deschamps, who said: "When he plays at that level it is great for us. Let's hope he can keep it up.

"You can see it on his face. He is beaming and that is because he is feeling confident."

Benzema agreed: "Right now, I feel good in myself and that shows on the pitch. That has to continue." He finished the season with 24 goals for Real Madrid but, after his double in a 4-3 Clasico defeat to Barcelona, he concluded the campaign with only a solitary goal in his last 11 appearances. That, at least, came in another high-profile match - the only goal in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.

Having been left out of France's wretched 2010 campaign in South Africa, Benzema will be desperate to now seize his chance.

His record in European Championships is far from impressive, having failed to score in six appearances - two in the group stage exit in 2008 and all four games as France lost to Spain in the 2012 event. And having been dropped in favour of Arsenal frontman Olivier Giroud during the qualifying campaign and with Loic Remy, who excelled on loan at Newcastle, also in contention, the 26-year-old will know there is no margin for error.

Transfer speculation again surrounds him as well and Giroud could even be a future club-mate, with the Gunners - along with Premier League rivals Liverpool - linked with a possible summer bid for his services should Real feel they can find better.

With his fitness not expected to be in question despite recurring discomfort from a knee problem, and having benefited from working with World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane at his club, Deschamps and France will be hoping the stage is set for a Benzema break-out.

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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