Wed, Sep 04, 2013 - Page 19 News List

France hope Benzema’s drought ends at playoffs

Reuters, PARIS

France’s Karim Benzema, left, and Mathieu Valbuena on Monday warm up at a training session in Clairefontaine, France, for their 2014 World Cup qualifier.

Photo: Reuters

France manager Didier Deschamps is hoping that forward Karim Benzema can rediscover his scoring touch and end a year-long international goal drought as they look to guarantee at least a World Cup qualifying playoff spot.

Second-placed France are aiming to grab the six points that would secure a top two finish in Group I — which world champions Spain lead by a point — when they visit Georgia on Friday and Belarus four days later.

The group winners automatically qualify for next year’s finals in Brazil with the eight best runners-up from the nine sections going into a playoff round.

Worryingly for 1998 World Cup winners France, they have not scored in their past four games and Benzema has taken the brunt of the blame.

The 26-year-old forward, who has been ordered to work harder by his Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, appears to have lost all confidence in front of the goal, as was evident when he wasted two chances in France’s 0-0 friendly draw with Belgium last month.

Despite his failings, Deschamps continued to back his first-choice striker.

“I know that it’s been an issue because of his lack of efficiency in front of goal. I hope that it [the drought] will end as soon as possible, for the team and for him too,” Deschamps told a news conference at France’s training facility in Clairefontaine. “Karim is eager to score, I am too, his teammates too ... everybody hopes he’ll find the net again.”

Arsenal centerback Laurent Koscielny, whose in-form club teammate Olivier Giroud could usurp Benzema in the France lineup, said the squad still had faith in the Real Madrid striker.

“He’s been through difficult times, but the squad is behind him. We trust him. He has shown in the past that he could be a great goalscorer, all he needs is to regain confidence,” Koscielny said. “He has played great matches with Real, he has created goals. We support him, we encourage him during training to help him score a lot of goals and we know it will come for him.”

If Giroud lines up with Benzema in attack, it could ease the pressure on him and Deschamps has not dismissed the idea.

“It could be an option at the start or during a match,” he said.

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