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France bank on nerveless Benzema

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012, 16.55CET
"There hasn't been a game in which I've felt pressure," France striker Karim Benzema told as he fixed his icy gaze on the Group D opener against England in Donetsk.
by Frédéric Azilazian & Matthew Spiro
from Donetsk
Published: Sunday 10 June 2012, 16.55CET

France bank on nerveless Benzema

"There hasn't been a game in which I've felt pressure," France striker Karim Benzema told as he fixed his icy gaze on the Group D opener against England in Donetsk.

France are using the unusual method of cryotherapy to keep cool in Ukraine. It involves them wearing ice jackets before matches and training sessions, and jumping in to a cooling chamber before going to bed. One player, however, might not need to wear the jacket for quite as long as the others before facing England on Monday.

Karim Benzema gives the impression of being ice-cool already. Whether running out at the Santiago Bernabéu, striding purposefully into the interview room in France's Donetsk press centre, or leading the line for his country at a major finals, nothing fazes the Real Madrid CF striker. "I don't feel pressure," Benzema told "There hasn't been a game in which I've felt pressure."

That is quite some claim. Yet the 24-year-old simply seems to be in his element doing what he loves most: playing football and scoring goals. In the coming days the hopes of a nation will be riding to a large extent on his ability to unsettle opposition defences and apply the finishing touches, but he is taking the responsibility in his confident stride.

"I manage the expectation very well," Benzema said. "It's part of my job. At Madrid, I'm always under pressure and it's more or less the same with France. But I don't put extra pressure on myself. There are other players in this team – it's not only me. The most important thing is that I'm feeling good and I'm ready to help the team."

The stakes will be high at the Donbass Arena. Les Bleus are keen to prove they have put recent disappoints behind them by performing well in the Group D opener, while England look for a reassuring result in Roy Hodgson's first competitive game in charge. None of that is likely to be racing through Benzema's mind before kick-off, though. "When I walk up the tunnel, I feel a rush that lasts about ten seconds. But then as soon as the game starts, I'm in my own world. I'm in my own movie, you could say. All I think about is doing well."

Benzema's relaxed approach is serving him well. He has just enjoyed his most prolific season in club football, registering 21 league goals in Madrid's title triumph, as well as finishing joint-top scorer in France's qualifying campaign. Now he hopes to score and impress at an international tournament for the first time.

The former Olympique Lyonnais forward failed to make an impact at UEFA EURO 2008 and was not selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, yet he believes both his own and his country's fortunes are about to change. "We have a good squad and we're enjoying playing together," he explained. "We've got new players with a new spirit and a new coach. Everything's changed and we've started playing well."

Estonia would certainly vouch for that having suffered a 4-0 loss at the hands of a rampant French side last Tuesday. Benzema scored twice, taking his international tally to 15 goals in 45 games, and also set up Franck Ribéry's goal with a brilliant flick. "Franck and I have developed a really good understanding," Benzema enthused. "It's very enjoyable to play with such a talented player. On top of that he's a good friend."

Benzema is now setting his sights on England and, unsurprisingly, does not appear at all stressed about the prospect of taking on John Terry and friends. "I don't fear any other players," he insisted. "I like Steven Gerrard but I don't fear anyone. We know it's going to be difficult against England. They're a strong side with some fine players." The laid-back Frenchman will not, however, be losing any sleep over it.

Last updated: 26/10/12 15.09CET

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