Karim Benzema was forced to leave the pitch with a dead leg on Tuesday as world champions France beat Bulgaria 3-0 in their final friendly one week before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign. Benzema was taken off in the 39th minute at the Stade De France in what is France’s last match before they take on Germany in their opening Group F match of the European Championship against Germany on June 15. France also face reigning European champions Portugal and Hungary, who will play two of their group matches in front of big crowds at the Puskas Arena in Budapest.
The 33-year-old Benzema had been recalled with great fanfare to the national team following a near six-year exile, but his replacement Olivier Giroud showed why Les Bleus are considered among the favourites for the tournament with a late brace which took his France total to 46.
Giroud, 34, is now just five goals behind France’s all-time top scorer Thierry Henry but will likely be sidelined when Benzema returns.
“When people call on me, the most important thing is to do the job,” Giroud told broadcaster M6.
“I had good service from my teammates. They know where I’m going to be in the box so I just tried to finish well.”
Antoine Griezmann scored the opening goal in front of 5,000 joyous supporters who were also celebrating their return to live football in the stadium.
Charlene Lecuir was one of those fans lucky enough to get a ticket for Tuesday’s match, and told AFP she let out a “scream of joy” when she learned she would be attending.
Fans were allowed in if they had a negative test for Covid-19 within the previous 48 hours or proof they had been completely innoculated for the virus.
– Benzema’s ‘dead leg’ –
The supporters were worried when, with France already ahead thanks to Griezmann, Benzema sat down in the middle of the pitch and was checked over by team doctors after having fallen heavily when attempting a header a few minutes earlier.
He then left the field, but France coach Didier Deschamps played down the injury, saying it was a “dead leg”.
“He took a good hit on the muscle above the knee,” Deschamps told M6.
“He stopped playing because he felt it hardening… the medical staff are at his side.”
Benzema had been sidelined by Les Bleus since 2015 over his alleged role in a blackmail plot involving his former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
He missed out on France’s 2018 World Cup win and their run to the Euro 2016 final on home soil.
Benzema has scored 27 goals for France and was last month named as this season’s best French foreign-based player by the country’s players’ association.
He scored 29 goals last season for Real Madrid, passing 20 league goals in all three seasons since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018.
Elsewhere a Spain side made up of young players due to captain Sergio Busquets’ positive Covid-19 test, which led to the entire first team squad being put in isolation, thumped Lithuania 4-0.
Hugo Guillamon began the rout in the fourth minute before AC Milan forward Brahim Diaz doubled their lead 20 minutes later.
Abel Ruiz missed a penalty on the half-hour mark but nine minutes after the break Juan Miranda made it three with a perfectly placed free-kick. Javi Puado rounded off the scoring in the 73rd minute.
Spain, whose first team squad will be vaccinated on Wednesday according to the country’s health ministry, open their Euro campaign in Group E against Sweden in Seville on Monday.
The Swedes have also been affected by the virus, announcing on Tuesday positive tests for Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg.
Robert Lewandowski had no success as Poland drew 2-2 at home with Iceland, Karol Swiderski replacing the Bayern Munich forward and saving the Poles’ blushes with two minutes remaining.
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