Karembeu: France can win Euro 2016
Despite Benzema's sex-tape scandal, Karembeu backs Deschamps' Les Bleus to go all the way
Christian Karembeu knows what it takes to deliver on the biggest stage in football, right in front of an expectant nation no less.
On July 12, 1998, he was in the starting 11 as France beat favourites Brazil 3-0 on home soil to be crowned World Cup champions for the first time in history.
Eighteen years on, the French will once again host a major football tournament, this time the European Championship, which kicks off on June 10.
For a nation that produced legends such as Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, expectations are bound to be high again as coach Didier Deschamps plots to end a 16-year wait for silverware.
The build-up to the championship has been overshadowed by striker Karim Benzema's case with international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was the target of a sex-tape blackmail attempt.
Benzema's hopes of playing at Euro 2016 were given a huge boost last Friday after his lawyer confirmed legal restrictions placed on him over the case had been lifted.
Whether Benzema and Valbuena make Deschamps' squad remains to be seen, but Karembeu is confident his former international captain can lead the country to glory again.
After all, Les Bleus have quality in the squad, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Hugo Lloris.
"It is a great challenge because Spain, Germany, Italy, England and Portugal will also be among the favourites," the 45-year-old Karembeu, who was also part of the side that won Euro 2000, told The New Paper yesterday.
"It's true that after what we achieved in 1998 and 2000, we didn't rebuild a new generation but now, with players like Pogba and Griezmann, I hope they will be inspired to go very far.
"Didier Deschamps is building a new team with new ideas and we did well in the last World Cup (in 2014), so I think we can see a strong national team in France (at the Euros).
"We know we have the potential and the talent but, at home, we also have our fans and they will push the team to perform and maybe even win it."
Karembeu was speaking at Shangri-La Hotel yesterday, on the sidelines of the Sportelasia 2016 conference as an ambassador for Spain's La Liga, following his three-year spell with Real Madrid that saw him win the Champions League twice.
He also had a notable stint in England with Middlesbrough and admits to be keenly following another Frenchman who has taken the Premier League by storm this season - West Ham's Dimitri Payet.
Asked if Payet deserves to be called up for Euro 2016, Karembeu said: "Dimitri is a very talented player and I know him well because we both began our careers at Nantes.
"I knew he would go far in his career and I said it to him before, and now he's arguably the best player in the Premier League. He's having a great season with the Hammers.
"But everybody knows a manager needs to build a team that fit together, not just choose the best individuals.
"Didier does know about him, so we'll just have to wait and see if he's among the best players who will be selected."
As a La Liga ambassador, Karembeu's job is to help Spain's top flight garner more traction in South-east Asia, which is a traditional stronghold for English football.
He said: "We're here to show that La Liga is one of the best (leagues in the world).
"You can see in the past 10 years that it is the teams from Spain who are reaching the finals of the Champions League and Europa League, winning many titles.
"If you see the Fifa Best XI, 99 per cent are from La Liga and there are great players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"In Spain, when Real Madrid play Barcelona, it is followed by 400 million spectators and that means a lot."
''We know we have the potential and the talent but, at home, we also have our fans and they will push the team to perform and maybe even win it.''
— Former French international Christian Karembeu, speaking at marketing and media convention Sportelasia at Shangri-La Hotel yesterday