90min
Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema reintroduction has taken France to another level

Max Parsons
Karim Benzema earned his first cap in six years against Wales
Karim Benzema earned his first cap in six years against Wales / FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
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When the full time whistle blew to end the 2018 World Cup final - in which France triumphed over Croatia 4-2, if you'd forgotten - and the tune of 'Allez les Bleus' rang out in waves across the whole country, it was difficult to see how that side could possibly improve.

But, three years on, it's safe to say that Didier Deschamps' men have on several occasions fallen flat since their World Cup triumph.

Olivier Giroud - for all the selfless and admirable work he has put in for his nation and despite the fact he has usurped Michel Platini as France's second all-time top scorer - has always offered one thing in attack; he is world class in the penalty area. But that's sort of it, and it's hindered les Bleus at times.

For example, in November 2020, Finland shocked Deschamps' side in Paris to claim a famous 2-0 win and, despite bossing the whole game, France simply couldn't break through the wall of white that opposed them - because they were one-dimensional.

However, les Bleus' most recent outing - a 3-0 win against Wales - spelled the return of Karim Benzema, who marked his first cap since 2015 in style.

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Olivier Giroud looks to the sky as France fall to a 2-0 shock defeat against Finland / FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Yes, he missed a penalty and no, he didn't score. But don't let that make you think it was a dreary affair for the Real Madrid ace. He was simply the difference between a flat and idealess France, and a France side who can create from any angle and squirm their way through opposition lines with the narrowest of margins.

Real's talisman encouraged a breathtaking fluidity and dynamism in both build up and final third play, while also putting his own creative spin on proceedings which Wales just couldn't handle.

After winning his side a first half penalty - which he subsequently saw well-saved by Danny Ward - and, in the process, getting Neco Williams (admittedly, harshly) sent off, he was integral to ensuring that Deschamps' men could find a way through what turned into a ten-man defence instead of running out of ideas to create chances.

By dropping deep or floating wide he continuously stretched the opposition, allowing the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembele to roam freely into pockets of space either in behind or between lines to affect the game - notably in the build up to Griezmann's sublime strike to make it 2-0.

His constant positional intelligence and indirect dictation of proceedings was massive in securing an eventual comfortable victory and is something that, with Giroud leading the line, has been missing when les Bleus have needed it over the past couple of years.

Benzema wasn't just a creative spark in the France XI, however. He was a presence in the box throughout, forcing two top saves out of Ward with headed efforts and hitting the post with an elegant chest down and volley in the second half - an attempt that ricocheted into the path of Dembele who tapped into an empty net for France's third.

Despite that moment confirming it wasn't to be a dream goal-laden return to the France setup, Benzema still ran over with a beaming smile across his face to hug and congratulate his compatriot. Contrary to what many may have thought of him, the Real striker is a team player, and he's added new dimensions to the France side. He's happy doing it, and so should those rooting for France be.

The previous, misjudged decision Benzema made to compare himself as an F1 car and Giroud as a go-kart was severely harsh and complete nonsense (obviously) but France have undeniably hit another gear with the former back in the squad.

And, if they weren't already, les Bleus should firmly be considered as favourites heading into this summer's European Championships.

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