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Nov 14, 2013

Criticism was 'too much', says Benzema

Karim Benzema has accused the media of going over the top in their criticism of him while he struggled to score for France.

Benzema, 26, ended a 1222-minute goal drought for his country in last month's 6-0 defeat of Australia, and followed that up with another strike in his nation's closing 2014 World Cup qualifier with Finland.

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Those goals have given the Real Madrid striker some respite from the almost relentless barracking he took from the French press during the 16-month period in which he could not find the back of the net for Les Bleus.

Benzema explained to Le Parisien: "It was the hardest time of my career. When you play at the highest level, you mustn't crack, never doubt, and always believe in yourself. Every day, people spoke about me. 'He doesn't score, he doesn't score, he doesn't score...'

"And when someone else scored, people took advantage of that to point out the fact I wasn't scoring. After a while, come on, it becomes too much. I got the impression that even if I was good on the pitch, it didn't do any good.

"I understand the expectation, but sometimes it goes over the top. Is it necessary to hammer a player like that? Once people have said I'm rubbish, they could then move on. But even so, for the next game, it was back to me."

He added: "I live with it. I only ask for objectivity. If I'm not good, for my club or with the national team, I'm the first to admit it. After the goalless draw in Georgia, I didn't look for excuses. There was no understanding up front, little movement. In such a case, I'm happy to take all the criticism levelled at the team upon myself. On the other hand, if people think I've been mediocre in a game in which I played well but I didn't score, I don't agree."

Though the former Lyon forward has finally ended his barren spell at international level, it does not necessarily mean he will find himself on the pitch at kickoff come Friday's playoff first leg in Ukraine.

Olivier Giroud is favourite to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation with his impressive displays for Arsenal and France having eased him in front of Benzema in Didier Deschamps' thinking.

"I'm not his back-up, nor that of any other forward. I'm not the back-up of anyone. I'm a player with the French national team. Each of us has our own style. We're a group. It's about winning all together," Benzema insisted.

"We're going to give everything in these two games. We're going to qualify. I'm convinced of that. We don't have a choice. At the end, there's a ticket for Brazil. The most beautiful thing. A World Cup in the country of football, of Ronaldo, Pele, Ronaldinho, I can name them all."

For many French football fans, Brazil also evokes the 1998 World Cup final, their nation's finest moment on the pitch and the game which catapulted Zinedine Zidane to global stardom.

Now assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid, the former France international is a confidante of Benzema, and played a central role in keeping his young compatriot's outlook sunny even during the most overcast of periods.

Benzema said: "He's always been close to me. We talk a lot, he gives me good advice. We talk a huge amount, and not just about football. We also have a laugh. Zizou has always been and is still behind me. I consider him a big brother. He protects me in Madrid. I like him a lot."

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