World Football

Benzema handed start against Wales on France return alongside Griezmann and Mbappe

Karim Benzema was included in France’s starting line-up for Wednesday’s friendly with Wales in Nice, ending the Real Madrid striker’s near six-year absence from the side.

The 33-year-old’s most recent appearance for Les Blues came in October 2015 when scoring a brace against Armenia, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 international appearances.

He then became embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena – Benzema has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October – and was subsequently overlooked by Didier Deschamps.

That was until last month, however, when Benzema was surprisingly recalled to the squad ahead of the Euro 2020 finals after holding face-to-face talks with Deschamps.

The prolific striker’s recall comes on the back of a campaign in which he scored 30 goals for Madrid in all competitions, 23 of those in LaLiga – behind only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (30).

Some 68 months on from his last outing for France, Benzema was back involved on Wednesday in a star-studded front three alongside Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

The friendly at Allianz Riviera also marked a special occasion for Hugo Lloris, who was captaining his national side from the start of a game for the 100th time.

That is 46 more than any other player in Les Bleus history, with Deschamps next on the list.

Chelsea’s Champions League-winning trio Kurt Zouma, N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud were not involved, while Thomas Lemar was also absent through injury.

Wales also named a strong line-up for their penultimate match before the European Championship finals get under way, with Gareth Bale captaining his side.

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