Benzema is France's main threat
France striker karim Benzema’s powerful presence will be hard to handle
ECUADOR v FRANCE
(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
A sex scandal overshadowed him. His temperament was questioned by two France managers and the hangers-on harangued him.
Karim Benzema was a football monster in the making, but a manhandled one.
Raymond Domenech dropped him from the 2010 World Cup squad. Laurent Blanc counselled him but struggled to curtail the external influences affecting his performances.
Only Didier Deschamps has resurrected the international career of a prodigious talent that threatened to flat-line.
French football’s boulevards are covered with the carcasses of petulant players whose mutinous mindsets overwhelmed their talent.
Benzema threatened to be dumped with the sporting corpses.
Branded arrogant by several Euro 2008 team-mates, he was cut adrift by Domenech. His alleged role in a Parisian prostitute ring in 2010 hardly helped his cause.
But Deschamps persevered. Rejecting Blanc’s softly-softly approach, the once indomitable midfielder challenged Benzema to release the beast within.
Playing Dr Frankenstein, the national manager tinkered with French football’s untamable creation, sent him out wide and created a monster.
Benzema is a force of his manager’s nature on the left wing; unforgiving and unrelenting. He has seized his belated World Cup opportunity with both feet. He has been granted the freedom of the final third but no longer neglects his collective responsibilities.
The shaven-headed striker remains a monstrous presence in a French jersey, but his manager retains control.
Benzema now understands the dichotomy that comes with being a disciplined international footballer. His freedom comes within limits. He can drive in any direction. But there are OB markers that must be observed.
The more he appreciates that his role is secondary to that of Les Bleus’ attacking template, the more important his role becomes.
In conforming to Deschamps’ overriding team directives, Benzema is becoming one of the World Cup’s outstanding individuals.
Like a proud Geppeto, the France manager is proud of his striker’s evolution. He’s a real man now, playing with genuine “joie de vivre”.
Three goals in two games leave Benzema level with Thomas Mueller, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben in the race for the World Cup Golden Boot. He was a first-half penalty miss away against Switzerland from sharing top spot with Neymar.
Ecuador are just as likely to be as obliging in their final Group E game in Rio.
“Karim has confirmed he is in very, very big form at this World Cup,” Deschamps said. “It is evident that he has a joie de vivre at this tournament, which makes you happy to see.”
France’s only World Cup-winning captain was being characteristically modest.
Benzema was considered a toxic product in 2010 and a malleable misfit easily influenced by a coterie of hangers- on two years later.
Deschamps toned down the debilitating petulance without damaging the desire. He lightened Benzema’s load by partnering him with Oliver Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena and turned the French into veritable scoring machines.
They are gorging on goals; eight in two games here and 39 in their last 11, including that 8-0 humiliation of Jamaica. Ecuador are not equipped to stem the tide.
Reinaldo Rueda’s lively lads know that a draw would send them through to the knockout stages, emulating their 2006 feat, when they were knocked out by England.
Ecuador’s striking sensation Enner Valencia, who has matched Benzema’s efforts by scoring all three of his country’s goals, has attracted the interest of Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle, according to British newspaper reports.
Valenica will be more interested in France’s creaking defence, which looked decidedly unstable against Switzerland after Mamadou Sakho hobbled off. In the dreamy, purple haze of five goals against the Swiss, the two conceded in the last 10 minutes got lost in the fog of celebration.
Real Madrid’s Rafael Varane is also doubtful, with Laurent Koscielny and Eliaqium Mangala on standby.
But Frikson Erazo and Jorge Guagua are still expected to be the busier centre backs.
Benzema is waiting.
Omnipresent against the Swiss, the Real Madrid striker scored one, had another harshly ruled out for crossing the line after the final whistle and created two others.
The Swiss are renowned for their timepieces, but Benzema was the one running against the clock.
He appears to be chasing down an internal stopwatch. He has one wasted World Cup opportunity on his resume. The 26-year-old hasn’t got time to blow another.
The last Frenchman to graduate from the country’s famed Generation of 1987, he’s a man on a mission.
The Ecuadorians should beware a mauling.
Group E equation
France will ensure top spot in the group with a point against Ecuador. Only defeat by at least four goals, coupled with a big win for Switzerland against Honduras, would deny Didier Deschamps' men.
Ecuador currently hold the goal difference advantage on Switzerland, with both teams on three points in second and third. To be sure of reaching the last 16, the South Americans need to and match what the Swiss are doing against Honduras.
Honduras will qualify for last 16 if they beat Switzerland and hope for a defeat for Ecuador against France.
They would then need to overtake both Switzerland and Ecuador on goal difference or, if goal difference was equal between the three sides, on goals scored.