Benzema under pressure to end France goal droughtBy JEROME PUGMIRE , Associated Press
Sep. 2, 2013 12:15 PM ET
CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP) — Karim Benzema is under pressure to end his 14-game scoring drought with France in upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Belarus.
Benzema has scored twice in three league games for Real Madrid, and also set up two goals in Sunday's 3-1 home win against Athletic Bilbao. But he has not scored for the national team since his brace against Estonia in a friendly before last year's European Championship.
France coach Didier Deschamps has kept faith with him despite a string of frustrating recent performances.
"His lack of efficiency for us is a recurring theme," Deschamps said Monday. "I hope it ends as soon as possible for his sake and for the team's as well."
France is in second place in Group I, one point behind Spain after losing 1-0 at home to the world champions in March. The Spanish seem in a commanding position, with a match away to Finland on Friday followed by two home games against Belarus and Georgia.
"Our objective is to get six points to ensure we finish at least second in our group," Deschamps said, suggesting that he is resigned to qualifying through the playoffs. "Everything's possible in football, but before hoping for a favorable scenario for us in Finland we have to think about the Georgia match. Spain didn't have an easy game there, so we'll have to be vigilant."
Deschamps normally deploys Benzema as his lone striker but may be tempted to pair him with Oliver Giroud in Tbilisi.
"Yes, it's possible, I've done it before," Deschamps said. "It could be an option to push Karim slightly out wide."
Giroud scored the winning goal for Arsenal in Sunday's north London derby against Tottenham, his third goal in successive league games, and is looking very sharp leading the line in his second season with the club.
But Giroud has also found goals hard to come by for France, although the rare ones he has scored have been important.
He is more often used as a substitute and has three goals in 20 appearances — two of those coming in qualifiers in the 1-1 draw away to Spain and the 3-1 home win against Georgia.
"Scoring in a big game like that (against Tottenham) and getting the three points for his team will be good for his confidence," Deschamps said. "Of course he arrived (at training camp) this morning with a big smile on his face."
Deschamps also recalled striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, after his impressive start to the season with Marseille.
"I'm happy to see strikers doing well in their clubs (and) they all are," he said. "It might be a bit harder for me to make a choice, but I prefer that to players who are struggling for form."
The 27-year-old Gignac has not played for France since the last match of the ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign, where the team embarrassed a nation by going on strike at training. After that, he had two injury-plagued seasons with Marseille, put on a significant amount of weight, and was mocked by even his own fans as his confidence fell apart.
"I can guarantee you I had two terrible years, I suffered enormously," Gignac said. "It was my mentality that got me back here."
If France's strikers fail to shine, it might be left to Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery to provide goals. He is in the best form of his career and was recently awarded UEFA's Best Player in Europe award for last season.
"You can't say there are many French players in the history of French football who've received this award. He should be proud of it and he is," Deschamps said. "He brings his leadership through what he does on the field, being decisive for his club and for us as well. That's the role he can have."
Meanwhile, Deschamps called up Lyon midfielder Maxime Gonalons on Monday to replace the injured Etienne Capoue.
The Tottenham midfielder sprained his left ankle against Arsenal.
Deschamps will wait until Tuesday before deciding whether to replace Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.