SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Karim Benzema had never scored in a major competition before this World Cup. Now he’s quickly becoming one of the stars of the tournament.
His outstanding performance in Friday’s 5-2 win against Switzerland, where he scored one goal, made another and was a fraction away from scoring another, earned him a second straight man of the match award.
He could also have had back-to-back hat tricks.
Benzema missed a first-half penalty against the Swiss, and was denied a second goal when his first-time curling effort was ruled out because referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle for full time a split second before.
“I hadn’t heard the referee’s whistle. That’s two goals I’ve been denied now, it’s starting to annoy me a bit,” Benzema joked after the game.
In the first match against Ecuador, Benzema scored two goals in a 3-0 win and almost got a third when his effort struck the post and went in off the goalkeeper.
Still, he has scored nine goals in the past eight games and improved his tally to 24 in 68 games overall for France.
“Karim is confirming that he’s in very, very good form. He’s in great shape athletically,” coach Didier Deschamps said. “His happiness is a joy to behold, he’s one of the best players in the world and having such an efficient player is very important in a competition like this.”
Benzema failed to score at the European Championships in 2008 and 2012, and was left out of the last World Cup squad by former coach Raymond Domenech. In the absence of Franck Ribery, who was ruled out shortly before this World Cup because of a back injury, Benzema has thrived from being out of his shadow.
“I’m happy and proud, it was a very strong performance, we scored goals, we played as a team,” the 26-year-old Benzema said.
Things looked bleak for Benzema last October, when he was dropped by Deschamps after going 15 international games without scoring.
That seems like a lifetime ago now, after Benzema broke out of his dismal spell to help Real Madrid win the Champions League, as well as playing a crucial part in the 3-0 playoff win against Ukraine that sealed France’s place at the World Cup after it had lost the first leg 2-0.
“I’m feeling good mentally, 100 percent, but I can do even better,” said Benzema, who is level with Netherlands duo Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, Germany’s Thomas Mueller and Ecuador’s Enner Valencia with three goals.
“It’s not just down to me, I’m benefiting from the work of my teammates,” Benzema added, praising Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena.
All three of them scored a goal and made one against the Swiss, with Benzema’s inch-perfect pass setting up Moussa Sissoko for the fifth goal.
“We’ve gained in confidence, we’re playing together more and we’ve built an understanding,” Benzema said. “It’s not just me or Olivier, everyone’s raising the level of the team.”
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