Still no place for Benzema in France squad for friendlies
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring the third goal against Celta during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Celta and Real Madrid at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo, Spain, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — France coach Didier Deschamps gave a vague explanation as to why he again left out Karim Benzema from his squad on Thursday, the day after the Real Madrid striker demanded answers.
"I would like to remind you, if needed, that I am the only person who decides, and I make decisions within a sporting framework. I am here to choose players to build a squad, because for me the collective has always been above everything else," Deschamps said. "I always make choices in the same way, which I consider to be for the good of the France team. I have always done things this way and I won't change."
France plays Paraguay on June 2 in Rennes, Sweden one week later in Stockholm, and hosts England at Stade de France on June 13.
Benzema is facing charges relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape featuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema is suspected of pressuring Valbuena to deal with blackmailers. The case has been dragging on. He has not played for France since October 2015 when he scored twice against Armenia in a 4-0 win.
Even though French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet said last year that Benzema was available for selection again, he was left out of the 2016 European Championship squad.
Deschamps suggested he hasn't really been missed.
"The France team was built before the Euro, and strengthened itself during the competition, where we managed to reach the final. We were a competitive side and continue to be during qualifying (for the 2018 World Cup)," Deschamps said. "I have a squad where there's a balance, a harmony, a real dynamic that has been created. I trusted players who responded on the pitch through their performances."
Benzema has hit top form recently, setting up a goal with a brilliant piece of skill against Atletico Madrid to help his side reach a second straight Champions League final. He is also closing in on the Spanish league title, and considers his repeated absence from the France squad to be illogical.
"If the coach tells me straight into the eyes that it is because of soccer, then I will keep working," Benzema said in an interview with sports daily L'Equipe on Wednesday. "If it's for another reason, then he should tell it to my face, and I will be done with him."
When the sex-tape scandal broke, Benzema faced heavy criticism, with then Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying he had "no place" in the national team.
The last time France played, against Luxembourg and Spain in March, Deschamps also faced criticism for leaving out Alexandre Lacazette, who has 35 goals for Lyon this season.
But he called him up this time.
"Other than the goals that he's scored, and will continue to score, he is showing a great attitude, a lot of aggression," Deschamps said.
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain), Benoit Costil (Rennes), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Defenders: Lucas Digne (Barcelona), Christophe Jallet (Lyon), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Benjamin Mendy (Monaco), Djibril Sidibe (Monaco), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
Midfielders: N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Paris Saint-Germain), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham), Corentin Tolisso (Lyon)
Forwards: Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Florian Thauvin (Marseille)