France forward Benzema's star continues to rise in Brazil

  • Agencies, Salvador, Brazil
  • Updated: Jun 22, 2014 12:43 IST

Karim Benzema had never scored in a major competition for France 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 two and was a fraction away from scoring another, earned him a second straight man of the match award.

Benzema gestures after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Group E match between Switzerland and France at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador. (AFP Photo)

He could also have had back-to-back hat-tricks in the first two games of this World Cup.

In fact, his six goals could have even made him the runaway top-scorer in this tournament. However, Benzema has to make do with 'just' three against his name so far, making him the joint top-scorer along with Netherlands duo Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, Germany's Thomas Mueller and Ecuador's Enner Valencia.

The Frenchman missed a first-half penalty against the Swiss, and was cruelly denied a second goal when his brilliant 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, but was declared an own-goal by the referee.

Benzema scores his side's third goal during the Group E match between France and Honduras at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre. (AP Photo)

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."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Benzema though.

The forward 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.

Things looked really 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 play-off 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. It's not just down to me, I'm benefitting from the work of my teammates," Benzema said, praising goal-scorers Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena.

"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."

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 added.

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