L'Affaire Benzema: 'If they need me, they know where I am'

France's loss is Real Madrid's gain.

Karim Benzema has been having a crummy season by his standards -- five goals in La Liga and two in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League -- but the 30-year-old forward still has the faith of countryman Zinedine Zidane.

That's more than can be said for French national team coach Didier Deschamps.

Benzema was back in the Real Madrid lineup on Tuesday and his two goals were enough to send Los Merengues into the Champions League final for the third straight time with a 4-3 aggregate win over Bayern Munich.

“I’m happy for Karim because he deserves it," said Zidane. "He’s never stopped working and he made the difference today. I’m happy for the team."

Benzema's five La Liga goals are the fewest in his nine seasons at Real Madrid. He has won 16 Spanish trophies to go along with seven French trophies with Lyon in one of the most successful club careers ever by a Frenchman.

But he has not played for the French national team since October 2015 after leading France in scoring at the 2014 World Cup, where it reached the quarterfinals.

The origin of Benzema's problems on the national team: "L'Affaire Sextape" in which he was accused of helping blackmail former Bleus teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The French federation suspended Benzema indefinitely in December 2015, then confirmed he wouldn't be picked for Euro 2016, which France hosted. Les Bleus reached the final, where they lost to Portugal, 1-0, in overtime.

Even if France could have used Benzema at Euro 2016, Deschamps has not recalled Benzema.

"It certainly wasn't an easy decision for me to make," said Deschamps last fall. "I defended the player a lot both before and during [the court case] because that seemed like the logical thing to do. I did an analysis not on an individual but on the group as a whole. The group has always been above everything else. I chose to do this because of what is best for the French national team. I did what is good for the group and it is my decision."

Benzema isn't the first French star to be excluded from the national team. Eric Cantona never played for France again even after his suspension ended for his kung-fu kick at a Crystal Palace fan while playing for Manchester United in 1995.

Suspensions followed the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Later in 2012, five U-21 players received suspensions for bans for an unauthorized night on the town.

The irony is that while Deschamps has a ton of attacking talent -- Antoine Griezmann, one of those U-21s, Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, Dmitri Payet, Kingsley Coman, Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir -- he doesn't have a settled frontline, in part because he doesn't have a successor to Benzema.
Benzema wasn't part of the 2010 World Cup team, nor was he involved in the Euro 2012 incidents, like his friends, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa. But he paid a price in the court of public opinion for being the latest in a long line of French soccer stars who had gotten into trouble. Polls were very much against Benzema, and then-prime minister Manuel Valls even came out against him.

"My case has become a political issue," he told the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair in Aptil. "I am relaxed [about it] now. If they need me, they know where I am."

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