Soccer-Benzema gets surprise call-up to France Euro squad

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·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: La Liga Santander - Real Madrid v Sevilla
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Real Madrid's Karim Benzema was included in France's squad for the European Championship on Tuesday in a surprise move by coach Didier Deschamps after the pair resolved their differences.

Benzema, who has scored 29 goals in all competitions for Real this season, has not played for Les Bleus since 2015 after a blackmailing scandal over which he faces a trial in October.

He also said in 2016 that Deschamps had "bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France" when leaving the forward out of the Euro squad that year.

The 33-year-old Benzema, who has 27 goals in 81 games for France, features in the 26-man squad alongside fellow forwards Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder and Marcus Thuram.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial was not in the squad, Deschamps said, because he was not physically ready. The forward suffered a knee problem in a World Cup qualifier with Kazakhstan in March and has only just returned to training with his club.

While Deschamps had not picked Benzema since October 2015 and said he would "never forget" his comments, the France coach had never stated that he would not call him up again.

"I don't have the ability, no one does, to go back and change anything. The most important thing is today and tomorrow. There have been important steps, one of them very important," Deschamps said when asked about Benzema.

The striker was named best French player in a foreign league by the French professional footballers' union on Sunday.

LONG DISCUSSION

"We have seen each other. We had a long discussion," added Deschamps. "After that I had a long reflection to come to this decision. I'm not going to reveal a word of the discussion, it's only our business. I needed it, he needed it.

"I have already been confronted with difficult situations, I have always put my personal case aside. The French team does not belong to me, even if I am well aware that the responsibility I have is important because of the choices I have to make."

Benzema wrote on Twitter: "So proud of my return to the French team and of the trust placed in me. Thank you to my family, my friends, my club, to you... and to all those who have always supported me and given me strength every day."

Giroud is likely to make way for Benzema in the starting lineup, having had limited playing time at Chelsea.

Both players have been at odds, with Benzema saying on Instagram last year: "You can't compare karting and Formula One, and I'm being kind."

Deschamps sprung another surprise by picking Sevilla defender Jules Kounde.

Euro 2020, which has been delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, starts on June 11.

France are in Group F with Germany, Hungary and Portugal.

Under Deschamps, who took over as coach in 2012, France have won 14 games, drawn three and lost two in major competitions, reaching the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, the Euro 2016 final and winning the 2018 World Cup.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur); Mike Maignan (Lille); Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille)

Defenders: Lucas Digne (Everton); Leo Dubois (Olympique Lyonnais); Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich); Presnel Kimpembe (Paris St Germain); Jules Kounde (Sevilla); Clement Lenglet (Barcelona); Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich); Raphael Varane (Real Madrid); Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ngolo Kante (Chelsea); Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid); Paul Pogba (Manchester United); Adrien Rabiot (Juventus); Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur); Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich)

Forwards: Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco); Karim Benzema (Real Madrid); Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich); Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona); Olivier Giroud (Chelsea); Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona); Kylian Mbappe (Paris St Germain); Marcus Thuram (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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