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Roma's chance to bounce back

AS Roma
By ESPN Staff

France striker Benzema aiming for the very top

LYON, France, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Promising young France striker Karim Benzema has proved a revelation in 2007 and is confident his talent will take him higher still.

'I know where I want to go and that's very, very high, right to the top,' the Olympique Lyon forward, who turns 20 on Wednesday, said.

Lyon-born Benzema was 17 when he made his Ligue 1 debut in a game at Metz and his first touch of the ball in that match set up a goal.

He scored his first goal in the Champions League against Rosenborg in December 2005. Then, in March this year, he made his France debut, hitting the winner in a 1-0 victory over Austria nine minutes after coming on.

Benzema , who grew up admiring Ronaldo and is not unlike the Brazil striker with a deadly mix of power and skill, is now an automatic choice both for Olympique Lyon coach Alain Perrin and France's Raymond Domenech.

Ligue 1's top scorer with 12 goals, he showed his class again last week when he scored two and set up the other in a 3-0 win at Rangers that took Lyon through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

'I have not changed but things around me have,' he said. 'I feel that a lot is expected from me. It puts pressure on me but I like that.'

He may be young, but at Lyon he is already one of the bosses.

'I'm not the young kid making his debut any more,' he said.

'Everybody trusts me. When Lyon concede a goal, the older guys such as (Brazil midfielder) Juninho or (France forward Sidney (Govou) talk to the others on the pitch. Now, I do that as well. I might be a bit shy off the pitch but on it, I'm different.'

Benzema said he was not at all surprised to be under the spotlight.

'This is the result of years of hard work,' he said. 'I wasn't quite sure when but I knew it would pay off. I have a lot of confidence. If I miss a chance, I know I will get another one.

'My parents tape all my matches and I look at them to find out what mistakes I made and see how I can improve.'

Benzema is being targeted by several top European clubs but has a contract with Lyon until 2012 and has said he will not leave the six-times French champions until they win the Champions League.

In 2008, he not only has club action to look forward to and could be one the attractions of the European championship finals in Austria and Switzerland.

'First of all I need a rest,' he said, looking forward to a break after a busy year.