After almost six years of waiting for an international goal, Karim Benzema can score again on Monday.
France will face Switzerland in the round of 16 of the European Championship and the striker can enjoy this race for several reasons.
Benzema can play more freely after scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw against Portugal on Wednesday, taking a huge weight off their backs. They were his first goals for Les Bleus since October 2015.
“Everyone was waiting for that,” said the Real Madrid striker. “The pressure is different than when you play for your club.”
He can also feel confident, because it was against the Swiss that he brought his previous best performance to France in a 5-2 victory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
He scored with an opportunistic finish, scored a goal for Musa Sissoko and interrupted a wonderful curling strike because he crossed the line just after the referee Bjorn Kuipers gave the last signal.
Brazilian fans in El Salvador warmed to his lavish style and he was the No. 1 striker for coach Didier Deschamps. Antoine Griezmann appears on the international stage, and Olivier Giroud is behind Benzema in the hierarchy.
The following year, Benzema’s international career was in decline after falling with Deschamps over the player’s involvement in a “sex tape” scandal.
This cost Benzema a place at Euro 2016, where France lost to Portugal in the final. He then watched on television how France won the 2018 World Cup.
Deschamps’ heartbreak saw Benzema be surprisingly recalled just before Euro 2020 and after a disappointing performance last Saturday against Hungary, he was in his best class against Portugal.
“These goals were important to Karim,” Deschamps said. “But he never stopped believing in himself, and I never stopped believing in him.”
Benzema’s 29 goals in 86 international appearances seems a bit low for a player with such technical abilities. However, there are many more things in his game than goals. He is a selfless striker who creates space for others, a mix of finisher, playmaker and supplier.
Former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo is Real Madrid’s all-time all-time goal scorer with 450 goals and attributes Benzema’s role to that in nine years together. Their connection was obvious when they left the field on Wednesday with their arms wrapped around them.
Benzema has appeared in Madrid since Ronaldo joined Juventus in 2018. He climbed to fifth place in the list of Madrid’s top scorers with 279 goals and is tied for fourth place in the Champions League with 71.
Now it’s time for the 33-year-old Benzema to help France score goals at Euro 2020. He did so against Portugal, stepping up a penalty shootout in the first half when Griezmann was the more regular penalty taker.
There was also pressure on Benzema because France was 1-0 behind and his previous penalty against Wales was saved three weeks ago. He sent the ball into the bottom left corner. “You,” Benzema said, “have to decide.”