Benzema's absence to affect France's hopes

PARIS • The sex-tape blackmail scandal in which Karim Benzema has become mired has cast a shadow over France's preparations for the European Championship that they will host next summer.

The announcement by French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet on Thursday that Benzema is suspended indefinitely from the France set-up has left national coach Didier Deschamps to focus on other options in attack in the build-up to the opening game on June 10.

Benzema is the leading scorer among all current France internationals with 27 goals from 81 caps. But he has been charged with complicity to blackmail his France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena in relation to a sex tape. He runs the risk of a five-year prison sentence and has been ordered not to have contact with Valbuena.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls weighed in on the matter last week, saying that Benzema should not play for France.

And Le Graet declared on Thursday that the 27-year-old is suspended until the case is settled.

  • Seedings for Euro 2016 draw

  • Pot 1

    France (hosts in Group A), Spain (holders), Germany, England, Portugal, Belgium.

    Pot 2

    Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Ukraine.

    Pot 3

    Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary.

    Pot 4

    Turkey, Ireland, Iceland, Wales, Albania, Northern Ireland.

    The draw will be held in Paris today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time). There will be six groups of four, with one team from each pot. The top two in each group advance to the last 16 along with the best four third-placed teams. The Finals start on June 10

Le Graet called the decision - made ahead of today's Euro 2016 draw - "heartbreaking". And the chances of the case being resolved before the tournament are slim.

In his absence, Olivier Giroud has the chance to establish himself as the first-choice centre-forward. He has scored 13 times in 45 appearances for Les Bleus and his hat-trick in Arsenal's 3-0 win over Olympiakos in the Champions League on Wednesday was a timely reminder of what he can do.

Elsewhere, Antoine Griezmann has shown with Atletico Madrid that he can score goals regularly at the highest level, Anthony Martial has handled the pressure well since his big-money move to Manchester United, while Lyon's Nabil Fekir could yet have a major part to play if he recovers from a knee injury in time.

The problem for France is that, like all host nations, their lack of competitive action in the build-up to the Finals makes them something of an unknown quantity.

In the absence of Benzema, Deschamps will need someone to step up and help turn a very good team into genuine contenders.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'Benzema's absence to affect France's hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe