Don’t expect Karim Benzema to be belting out La Marseillaise anytime soon.
The Real Madrid striker has gone eight successive matches without finding the back of the net for Les Bleus, a run stretching back to September 2011 when he notched in a 2-1 Euro 2012 qualifying win in Albania. He will likely get two opportunities to find his shooting boots in the coming days, with World Cup fixtures against Georgia and Spain on the immediate agenda.
However, it is not just his lack of goals which has been a source of annoyance to the French public, who have also noted his refusal to sign the national anthem whilst on international duty. But the 25-year-old Benzema, born in Lyon, insists this is nothing to do with a lack of commitment to the cause, but merely a personal preference.
“I do not have to sing the national anthem,” he told RMC. “Nor does it mean I do not like the national anthem any more or less. I have never sung it in my life and I will not do so now. By not doing so, this will not prevent me from scoring a hat-trick.
“I love the national team, and I do not understand how anyone can question that. It’s a dream to represent France, but nobody is going to force me to sing. I do not see what the problem is. (Zinedine) Zidane, for example, never sang it. In the stadium, there are fans who do not sing it. The important thing is that we are all united.”
Having held the Spanish to a 1-1 draw in the corresponding group fixture in October, when Olivier Giroud scored an equaliser deep into stoppage time, Didier Deschamps and his players will see the return match as an ideal opportunity to gain control of Group I. At present, the two teams stand shoulder-to-shoulder on seven points after the first three rounds of fixtures, although the World and European champions are ahead on goal difference.