Benzema stars as France beats Netherlands 2-0
PARIS (AP) — Karim Benzema kept up his prolific form by scoring a superb goal and helping to create another as France beat the Netherlands 2-0 in a pre-World Cup friendly on Wednesday.
Running onto a pass from midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the 32nd minute, Benzema let the ball bounce over his shoulder and did not even break stride as he thumped a powerful shot over goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen’s hands.
Matuidi added the second goal in the 41st, with Benzema playing a key part in a sweeping move.
Benzema has been in fine form for Real Madrid, scoring 11 in his past 13 games and winning over the fans.
It’s some contrast to a few months ago, when he was struggling with Madrid and lost his place in France’s starting lineup to Olivier Giroud after going 15 international games without a goal.
“He’s showing the same form he does for Real Madrid. He’s very precise in everything he does,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “He’s feeling confident and you can see it on his face. He’s beaming because he’s full of confidence.”
Benzema has now scored four goals in his last five matches for France and his dynamic overall performance should see him definitively reinstated as first-choice striker at the World Cup.
“Things evolve. Right now, Karim’s playing at such a high level that it’s beneficial for us, but that’s not a reason for me to condemn Olivier,” Deschamps said. “It’s good to have two strikers with different profiles.”
It was France’s first game since it overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat Ukraine 3-0 and qualify for the World Cup in a dramatic playoff.
“It wasn’t the same match but there was the same collective will to play positively,” Deschamps said. “The manner in which we played and our overall attitude was good. There was a lot of expectation and it was important for us to maintain our positive dynamic in this way.”
Antoine Griezmann, who has scored 15 league goals for Real Sociedad this season, made his debut while FC Porto center half Eliaquim Mangala started only his second international match. Manchester United’s Robin van Persie shook off an illness to lead the Dutch attack.
France started brightly and in the 10th, Yohan Cabaye switched the play right to fullback Mathieu Debuchy, whose cross narrowly missed Griezmann’s head.
A wonderful move unlocked the Dutch defense in the 19th, with Benzema releasing Mathieu Valbuena down the right. Valbuena’s looping cross to the back post was volleyed back across goal by Griezmann toward Benzema, who planted a header straight at defender Ron Vlaar.
Although France had more of the possession, the Dutch looked good on quick breaks and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris reacted sharply to push away Van Persie’s snap shot in the 30th.
It proved a crucial stop as, moments later, Benzema put France ahead with his 19th international goal.
“We lost our way a bit after the first goal. It’s not the defense’s fault, but rather that we lost the ball too much in midfield,” Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said through a translator. “We can’t afford to give possession away like that. It was a tough test against a good team, and that’s what I told the players.”
Things got worse for the Netherlands when central midfielder Kevin Strootman limped off in the 38th with a knee injury, and two minutes later France exposed a gaping hole in the middle.
Benzema showed great technique to play a quick one-two with Matuidi and then release the lively Valbuena down the right. Valbuena’s cross appeared to be going over Matuidi, but he twisted his body to take the ball near shoulder height and volley in his first international goal.
Seconds before halftime, Mangala somehow missed with a header from one meter out, placing it over the bar after Benzema had adroitly pulled a high ball back from the byline.
There were fewer chances in the second half as France eased up. Raphael Varane headed over, substitute Franck Ribery shot straight at Cillessen, and Cabaye curled a free kick wide late on.
Mangala, meanwhile, showed awareness to cut out two crosses at the front post before they reached Van Persie.