Thứ Ba, 10 tháng 6, 2014

World Cup exclusive: French hitman Karim Benzema moves past pain of 2010

He was unceremoniously left out of France’s World Cup squad in 2010, but Karim Benzema thinks that it may have been a blessing in disguise.

In an interview with Yahoo Singapore last week, the Real Madrid striker admitted that he feels much more ready to take Les Bleus to the next step of the tournament now compared to four years ago.

“The World Cup is a dream for every player, for every child. When I was a boy, I watched it on TV and hoped that I would be able to participate in it,” said Benzema from the team’s base in Clairefontaine. “I really look forward to this edition, because it takes place in Brazil, where football has a great culture.”

“Everyone in the world will be watching. Where you are… Asia, Europe and other parts of the world, everybody will be cheering. It’s a great feeling for any professional footballer to know that we can make fans happy,” he added.

The 27-year-old’s fiery character saw him previously fall out with former coach Raymond Domenech in 2010, after reports of a scandal with an underage prostitute caused an uproar in France.

Back then, Domenech insisted that he had excluded the player due to a poor season with Real Madrid, and not his off-the-pitch antics.

Today, Benzema dismisses the issue as water under the bridge.

“It’s a new chapter with Deschamps. I have moved on from what happened and I feel stronger now. There has been a lot of criticism against me and the squad this season, but I’ve learnt to deal with it,” he admitted.

More importantly, the Champions League and Copa del Rey winner with Real Madrid this season has also acknowledged the importance of leading France’s youngsters in Brazil.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, 21, has been touted as a potential breakout star at the World Cup, following dazzling performances for the Serie A side and the French U-20 squad, with whom Pogba won the U-20 World Cup with last summer.

“For France, I know I’m now one of the older players in the team and I have to set a good example for the young players. I am bringing my experience with me, but it’s also a more important role. We need everyone in the team to have a great World Cup and contribute effectively, not just one or two players (like Pogba),” Benzema pointed out.

France, who are in Group E, will take on Honduras in their opening fixture on 15 June, followed by Switzerland and Ecuador.

[Make your World Cup predictions in our Pick"Em game here]

And although they have been considered Brazil’s own “bogey team”, after defeating them to win the World Cup in 1998, and again in the quarter-finals of 2006, critics have hit out at the lack of camaraderie and passion within the squad.

Benzema, however, aims to silence the critics who have dismissed France’s chances at the tournament.

With 21 goals in 66 appearances for the national team, Benzema has yet to win an international trophy, apart from the UEFA U-17 Championships, which was what put him on the footballing world map in 2004.

“People may think it’s crazy, but I don’t think it is fair that France are being underestimated. We have qualified for the competition, and go to Brazil with the intention to do well at the group stages and beyond. Anything is possible. In football, you never know,” he reasoned.

The devastating news of Franck Ribery’s back injury, which ruled the midfielder out of the World Cup three days ago, is also expected to significantly affect the team.

Although the injury occurred after this interview took place, Benzema acknowledged that the team spirit within the French team has improved reasonably.

“I find that the atmosphere within the team now is very good, compared to two years ago (at Euro 2012). Everything is going well in terms of preparation, and the players are positive and happy to be here. We are getting there,” he said.

Benzema, who welcomed a baby girl with his girlfriend, French actress Chloe (seen above with him in Madrid) in February, has also been linked to a move to Arsenal after the World Cup.

For now, his focus remains on doing well for Les Bleus, although he also refused to comment on his friend Samir Nasri’s controversial exclusion from Deschamps’ final squad.

Nasri was rumoured to be an individualist who Deschamps claimed caused division within the squad with his attitude.

“I can’t say it’s the same for every player, but we all work hard and try our best for the coach, and if he likes how we get along with others, we will be picked,” said Benzema.

The 1.87m tall French-Algerian also counts Zinedine Zidane as one of his idols, and aims to emulate his achievement in 1998.

“I get along very well with Zinédine, especially at Real Madrid (where he is sporting director). He is there for me and he has experience and knows how it goes,” said Benzema.

“There are many lessons to be learnt from him, and to win the World Cup like he did would be the ultimate dream.”

World Cup exclusive: French hitman Karim Benzema moves past pain of 2010

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