Benzema awakes from slumber to lift flagging France

PARIS - Karim Benzema seemed like a man bogged down by too many problems of his own to come to the rescue of a demoralised France team.

The 22-year-old forward has struggled to adapt life at Real Madrid since joining them last season, was overlooked for the World Cup and then placed under judicial investigation on suspicion of soliciting sex with an under-age prostitute.

Once regarded as the nation's brightest prospect, Benzema has also heard new club manager Jose Mourinho question his dedication and new France coach Laurent Blanc criticise his diet as his efforts on the pitch could not equal his obvious talent.

Blanc is in desperate need fresh blood to reshape a team in tatters after a disastrous World Cup but could not pick Benzema for France's opening Euro 2012 qualifier, an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat by Belarus, because he was nursing an ankle injury.

On Tuesday, however, Benzema was fit and started France's second Group D game against Bosnia in Sarajevo, well aware of the gravity of expectation resting on his young shoulders.

He was more than equal to the task and played an outstanding match, putting France on track for a 2-0 win with a splendid goal as he made life almost impossible for the Bosnia defence throughout.


Blanc was both delighted and relieved.

"Karim is an important player," the man who took over from Raymond Domenech after the World Cup told reporters.

"He's one of those players who has enough potential to score at any time and we don't have many of those," the 1998 world champion added. "Having him up front is a boost for us and hurts the confidence of our opponents."

One match alone is not enough to talk about a renaissance, and that goes for France as well as for Benzema, who needs to repeat that sort of performance and also to secure a place in the first team at Real Madrid, which is easier said than done.

His display on Tuesday, however, was a ray of hope.

"This was the most important goal I ever scored," Benzema, who now has nine goals in 29 appearance, told reporters. "It's always a pleasure to score in that type of match, even more because so much was expected from France and myself."

Benzema, who grew up admiring Brazil's Ronaldo, studying his every move on tape, has the power and skills to emulate his model, as long as he stops also copying his off-field antics.

"I am 22 and I know I have everything to prove if I am to have a great career for France," he said.

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