Football: Benzema exits early as France beat Bulgaria in final pre-Euro friendly

PARIS (AFP) – Karim Benzema was forced to leave the pitch with a dead leg on Tuesday (June 8) 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.

The 33-year-old 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 second-half brace.

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.

The fans 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,” France coach Didier Deschamps told broadcaster 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.

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