While Karim Benzema continued his seamless introduction to international football in the Faroe Islands on Saturday, another Olympique Lyonnais prodigy Hatem Ben Arfa scored on his France debut to the delight of Les Bleus coach Raymond Domenech. "Today's young players are like that," Domenech said. "International games do not frighten them, they thrive on them."
France may face a battle to reach UEFA EURO 2008™ from qualifying Group B – trailing Italy by one point and Scotland by two with two games to play – but one fruit of their campaign to date has been the emergence of three players from the side that won the 2004 UEFA European Under-17 Championship on home soil. Namely, Olympique de Marseille forward Samir Nasri, his fellow 20-year-old Ben Arfa and Benzema, 19.
"Too much competition," had been Domenech's reason for omitting David Trezeguet – scorer of 33 national-team goals – for the qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Lithuania. And once Louis Saha of Manchester United FC withdrew from the squad through injury last week, it said much about the coach's belief in his youngsters that he elected to call up Ben Arfa, rather than the Juventus striker or Djibril Cissé.
Substitutes Benzema and Ben Arfa justified that faith by netting three of France's four second-half goals in the 6-0 triumph in Torshavn – including two from Benzema after he had replaced the injured Nicolas Anelka. With the Bolton Wanderers FC attacker ruled out of Wednesday's Lithuania game in Nantes with a thigh strain, Benzema is tipped to start alongside a player who knows all about maturing from bright young thing to superstar: Thierry Henry.
The FC Barcelona forward equalled Michel Platini's haul of 41 goals for Les Bleus on Saturday, yet has been quick to praise the impact of his new colleagues. "It's great to see the youngsters scoring," Henry said, adding of Benzema's three goals in five appearances. "I applaud him, even if they were not crucial strikes, against Austria and the Faroes. I hope he'll have many more opportunities to prove himself." The Stade Beaujoire in Nantes should provide the first such chance.
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