Benzema's unexpected turnaround continues: Richard Buxton
Striker has overcome exile by France and being underappreciated at Real
Not that long ago, Karim Benzema appeared to have become football's great outcast.
Exiled by France and somewhat underappreciated at Real Madrid, the striker seemed destined to play out the remainder of his elite-level career under a shadowy cloud.
A childhood ambition of winning the Ballon d'Or could not have been any further away.
But Benzema again has the world at his feet, after helping Didier Deschamps' side clinch the Nations League with a 2-1 win over Spain in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) final.
His stunning equaliser within minutes of Mikel Oyarzabal opening the scoring in Milan saw Les Bleus make history as the first nation to claim Uefa's newest international competition, the World Cup and European Championship.
The 33-year-old had already played a starring role for the reigning world champions as they booked their showdown with La Furia Roja at the San Siro.
He helped to engineer a remarkable second-half fightback by scoring the goal that set them on the way to a 3-2 comeback win over Belgium in the semi-finals.
Rarely, however, did he receive the due acclaim which his talent deserved, until now.
Changes in circumstance with both club and country facilitated Benzema's current road to redemption. It was only once Cristiano Ronaldo concluded he had outgrown the Bernabeu that his former attacking partner was allowed a free reign of the spotlight.
AT THE MERCY OF OTHERS
For France, too, the veteran marksman's prospects lay firmly at the mercy of others.
Deschamps' steadfast refusal to reintegrate him into the ranks following a much-publicised expulsion in 2015 left him lingering on the international stage's periphery.
The France coach's belated acknowledgement of his team's ongoing firepower deficiency forced him to swallow personal pride and hand Benzema a surprise recall for Euro 2020.
His impact is being keenly felt in other areas beyond the six goals plundered in nine competitive appearances since returning to the fold ahead of the summer's Finals.
Should Kylian Mbappe pitch up at the Bernabeu next year, as is widely anticipated, his compatriot will have laid the early groundwork for a potentially devastating partnership.
Undoubtedly, Paris Saint-Germain's wantaway prodigy headed into this tournament with more to prove for his homeland than Benzema, having missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Switzerland which sealed their unforeseen round-of-16 exit at the Euros.
His controversial match-winning strike owed as much to the productive link-up with his prospective new clubmate as it did Theo Hernandez's defence-splitting pass in the build-up.
There was also an element of luck as Eric Garcia's touch allowed Mbappe to be ruled onside despite being in an offside position.
Restoring Mbappe's confidence only strengthens Benzema's increasingly credible bid for the Ballon d'Or after making its longlist in all except two years of the past decade.
Yet, the unavoidable and ongoing stigma which has clung to him for the past six years risks derailing those efforts to battle a crowded field that includes Jorginho, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski - to name just three - for the coveted personal accolade.
Later this month, Benzema will stand trial in a Versailles court over his alleged involvement in a plot to blackmail one-time international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
His public lament of the case being a "masquerade" is understandable; it has already denied him a World Cup winners' medal.
Benzema's presumed innocence ahead of the two-day hearing ultimately convinced Deschamps to finally renege on his original decision to banish France's prodigal son.
Only that Oct 20-22 court date now stands between him and this year's greatest comeback story.