Something strange happened in the midst of Wednesday’s extraordinary Night of Snakes and Ladders.
As France and Portugal scrambled between first, second, third and fourth place in Group F, even time seemed uncertain of its position.
For three more minutes at the end of the first half in Budapest, Karim Benzema converted from the penalty spot. The clock read: 4:44 p.m.
Karim Benzema spent nearly six years in exile from France but his return is timely
Then, shortly after the break, he ran on Paul Pogba’s precise pass and skewed in one second – 2-1, 46:44. A digital quirk mixed with poetic irony.
For almost six years, time has stood still on Benzema’s international career with France. And then when he finally exorcised the demons from this long exile, the clocks seemed to stop once again. Admittedly, everything stopped for 90 minutes in Bron, the birthplace of Benzema in the eastern suburbs of Lyon.
“The city organized a Fan Zone, where 900 people came to watch the match,” explains Frédéric Rigolet, who trained Benzema in his childhood. “It was a party to celebrate his return. We couldn’t wait to see him score and when the penalty kicked in, the crowd chanted his name for several minutes. It was amazing. ‘
In October, Benzema will face trial for his alleged role in a blackmail plot involving former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. He denies any wrongdoing.
He had been ignored by France for his alleged role in the blackmail involving Mathieu Valbuena
This date in court could mark the end of a saga that has turned the course of Benzema’s life upside down and hovered over French football. For years, a bitter taste and unanswered questions lingered as aftershocks reverberated through society as a whole.
The case dates back to October 2015. Investigators believe Benzema was approached by a childhood friend for a sex tape involving his teammate. The striker is accused of pressuring Valbuena to pay the blackmailers who threatened to publish the video.
He was arrested and Manuel Valls, then French Prime Minister, wanted to remove him from the team.
His wish was granted: Benzema was suspended from his duties in France and ignored for Euro 2016 and the triumphant 2018 World Cup.
The attacker accused Didier Deschamps of “bending to the pressure of a racist part of France” and soon vandals smeared “racist” the wall of the house of the boss of France. “I will never be able to forget it,” Deschamps said in January. “He crossed a line. “
But that all changed in April. Another private conversation, another round of who said what? This time, it is Deschamps and Benzema who, far from prying ears, are treating old injuries.
Didier Deschamps (left) and Benzema have treated old injuries and the striker is back
Its reminder speaks above all of the pragmatism that defined Deschamps’ reign. With Olivier Giroud – the non-scoring focal point in 2018 – running out of matches, the France coach has decided to marry this exciting generation with a relic from a previous era synonymous with sloppy potential.
So far, the holy trinity of the Blues, Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, has yet to find its rhythm. In Budapest, however, France’s former new number 9 wore them in the last 16.
Benzema missed a penalty in a warm-up match against Wales. He had a goal ruled out in the victory over Germany. When he finally broke his 2,085-day-old duck, it was fitting for Cristiano Ronaldo to share the stage.
The pair were signed by Real Madrid within days of each other in 2009, shortly after Florentino Perez was re-elected president. Over the next decade, they formed a frightening partnership.
Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has said Benzema is the glue that holds his BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) attack together.
The striker’s return to the score is not premature but his form could be vital for France’s hopes
“The best compliment you can give him is that Cristiano was in love with Benzema at Real Madrid,” Jose Mourinho recently told The Times. “For Cristiano, being in love with another striker means that he does a lot for Cristiano and for everyone around him. “
In Budapest, Ronaldo shook hands with Benzema after his first goal. Moments later, they exchanged shirts. It was Benzema who was named man of the match – even after Ronaldo’s own brace put him at Ali Daei’s international goalscoring record.
The Frenchman’s move to Madrid came after Perez went to Bron. When Sportsmail visited the neighborhood last year, a code of silence lingered.
All over France, Benzema’s Algerian legacy and various scrapes had tarnished his reputation and turned the striker into political football for conversations about identity and integration.
The coaches of his first club, SC Bron Terraillon Perle, however, chose not to discuss Benzema’s off-court issues with local children. Not when the 33-year-old offers hope for a life beyond the shadows of tall buildings. But Benzema made in Bron roots remain linked to its history.
The Real Madrid man (right) stole the show with his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo
Many of his family still live in the suburbs where he met these childhood friends.
Many fans in Bron stopped supporting France during his exclusion. Since its recall, sales of shirts have exploded throughout France. In Bron, Rigolet says that many locals have made peace with the team and that many young players now wear his No.19.
Those close to Benzema say his years in the wild fueled his desire to conquer Deschamps.
“I was expecting those goals,” Benzema said after the draw against Portugal. “I can sense the wait from all over the country, which is normal after years of waiting. Celebrating with the fans warmed my heart and I hope there will be many more nights like this. ‘