French sports minister welcomes return of Karim Benzema


PARIS — French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu on Wednesday welcomed the return of striker Karim Benzema to the country’s national team following a long exile.

In a surprise move Tuesday, France coach Didier Deschamps recalled Benzema after nearly six years out because of his links to the “sex tape scandal.” The Real Madrid forward was included in the coach’s 26-man squad for this year’s European Championship.

In sharp contrast to the hostile political reactions Benzema faced when he was banned from the team more than five years ago, Maracineanu said she is “very happy” to see him back with Les Bleus ahead of Euro 2020.

“I am sure that he will be an additional asset for France to shine at the Euro,” Maracineanu said.

The 33-year-old Benzema, the most talented French forward of his generation, played the last of his 81 games for France in October 2015, scoring twice in a friendly against Armenia to take his international tally to 27 goals.

He will stand trial in October for his alleged involvement in blackmailing former France teammate Matthieu Valbuena. Benzema, who denies wrongdoing, is suspected of pressuring Valbuena in 2015 to pay blackmailers who threatened to reveal an intimate video involving Valbuena.

When the story broke, Benzema faced a deluge of criticism and then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the former Lyon player had “no place” in the national team. Former French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying in a book that Benzema was not an example of morality.

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