Commentary

France says 'non' to star Benzema -- no Euros

Host France will have to play in the European Championship without its best striker. The French federation (FFF) took the extraordinary step of ruling out the return of Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, whom it suspending indefinitely in December while he faces legal proceedings related to his alleged role in a scheme to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

"L'Affaire Sextape" is one the latest in a series of off-the-field scandals that have rocked the French national team program in recent years, beginning with the player strike at the 2010 World Cup in support of Nicolas Anelka, who was kicked off the team in the middle of the tournament for insulting Coach Raymond Domenech and later banned for 18 games. (The whole team was suspended for one game, and others received individual sanctions, notably captain Patrice Evra, handed a five-game ban.)

After Euro 2012, Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez were suspended for three and one games from French national team over conduct during the tournament, and two other players, Yann M'Vila and Hatem Ben Arfa, received warnings.

Later in the year, M'Vila received an 18-month ban and four other players (among them current star Antoine Griezmann) were suspended for an unauthorized night on the town while playing with France's U-21s.

Benzema wasn't part of France's World Cup 2010 team but didn't escape trouble that year. Teammate Franck Ribery and Benzema were charged with (and later acquitted of) soliciting an underage prostitute.

With the weight of this history of bad behavior by national team players, it was no surprise that the FFF dropped Benzema even he has no been formally charged with anything. The polls were very much against the 28-year-old striker, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls had even come out against the player.

The decision followed a meeting between FFF president Noel Le Graet and national team coach Didier Deschamps, and a statement was released:

"Based on this analysis, Mr. Le Graet and Mr. Deschamps met to discuss the situation of Mr. Benzema. The president of the federation and the coach wish to recall that sporting performance is an important, but not exclusive, criterion in determining selection for the France national team.

"The ability of players to work towards unity, in and around the group, setting an example and the preservation of the group are also taken into account by all of the selectors in the Federation.

"As a result, Noel Le Graet and Didier Deschamps decided that Karim Benzema will not participate in Euro 2016."

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The move isn't the first time a French star has been controversially excluded from a major tournament. Eric Cantona did not go to the European Championship in 1996, the same year he won English soccer's FWA Footballer of the Year award.

France's attack is loaded with young stars, but it doesn't have a center forward like Benzema, who had an excellent 2014 World Cup and has already tied a career-high in league goals with 21 this season for Real Madrid.

The first choice to replace Benzema will be "Le Mexicain," Andre-Pierre Gignac, who plays in Mexico for Tigres. A long shot is Ben Arfa, whose career has been resurrected since his move back to France with Nice, for which he has scored 16 goals in 29 games.

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