France head coach Didier Deschamps confirmed Karim Benzema suffered a "knock" that will require further assessment after the world champions finalised their Euro 2020 preparations.

Benzema was withdrawn during the first half of France's 3-0 victory over Bulgaria, having fallen awkwardly after challenging for a header in the pre-Euros warm-up fixture on Tuesday.

With France's opening game at the rescheduled European Championship just a week away – against Germany on June 15 – the sight of Benzema limping from the field represents a major worry for France.

But Deschamps gave little away in his assessment of the blow, telling TF1: "It's a knock on the knee, which also affects the muscle. He felt he was getting stiff so he asked to be subbed.

"The medical staff are taking care of him."

The good news for France is that they have a ready-made replacement for Benzema in Olivier Giroud, who led the line during their victorious 2018 World Cup campaign.

Giroud netted the 45th and 46th goals of his international career late in the second half to move within five of all-time top scorer Thierry Henry's 51 – all despite Deschamps not expecting to use him much against Bulgaria.

"Taking into account the situation in which he arrived, psychologically and especially physically, I had planned to bring him in for less time," Deschamps added.

"He's still a scorer, with a foolproof mind. I'm not going to complain, and the squad will need it too. We will need all our strength. He is part of it too, [that's] good for him and the France team. 

"I think he has played more tonight than the last three months combined."

 

Paul Pogba has warned France they need to remain humble to avoid Euro 2020 disappointment, adamant they will just be seen as a "PlayStation team" if they are not successful.

Les Bleus head into the Euros well fancied for more glory, having won the 2018 World Cup and seeing their already-remarkable pool of talent improve even further.

France are one of two European nations – with Belgium – to have reached at least the quarter-finals of the past three major tournaments, while their squad accumulated the second-most minutes (522,421) across the top five European Leagues this season among those to qualify for the Euros – they certainly are not short of experience.

As many as 14 of their 26-man squad were in Russia three years ago, while they are now able to add Karim Benzema into the mix again – the Real Madrid star recalled after nearly six years in the international wilderness.

Benzema goes into the tournament on the back of his best goalscoring season (30 in all competitions) since netting 32 in 2011-12 and bolsters a position that was arguably seen as the weakest in the France squad, with Olivier Giroud often chosen to lead the line in Russia.

 

Add Benzema to Kylian Mbappe and a semi-resurgent Antoine Griezmann, who had a hand in 25 goals (15 scored and 10 assists) across all competitions since the turn of the year for Barcelona, and Didier Deschamps has a potentially frightening front three.

Griezmann boasts a brilliant record in international tournaments after being involved in more goals (14) over the past two such events than any other European player.

 

But France are not just a force to be reckoned with in attack, their record of 1.6 shots on target conceded per 90 minutes in the Euro 2020 qualifiers was not bettered by any other team, though their pedigree and reputation will count for nothing if they fail to rise to the occasion at the Euros, according to Pogba.

"We have a PlayStation team but it will remain a PlayStation team if we don't win a trophy," the Manchester United midfielder told Eurosport.

"We have to live up to expectations and there'll be even more expected with Karim's return. It's nice to see a teamsheet like that... It's always an honour but you always have to be present on the pitch.

"Being world champions and having a team like that, we will be expected to do even more.

"We must remain humble. I want to give this message: It's not a foregone conclusion. We hear a lot of talk but we keep out feet on the ground."

Les Bleus will be attempting to become the fourth team to win back-to-back World Cup and Euros – in no particular order – after West Germany (Euro 1972, World Cup 1974), France (World Cup 1998, Euro 2000) and Spain (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012).

If Deschamps lifts the trophy at Euro 2020, he will become the first person ever to win the World Cup and Euros both as player and manager.

There is lots on the line for France, and they certainly have a squad capable of making amends for their Euro 2016 final disappointment.

But, as Pogba has pointed out, arrogance will do them little good in a group that also contains Germany and defending champions Portugal.

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

Karim Benzema expressed pride to have ended his near six-year exile from the France national side in Wednesday's friendly with 10-man Wales, but admitted there is room for improvement after missing a penalty in the 3-0 win.

The 33-year-old failed to convert a first-half spot-kick at the Allianz Riviera and hit the post in the build-up to Ousmane Dembele's late strike after Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann had put France on course for a routine win.

That was Benzema's third penalty miss in a row for his national side, having also failed to convert against Switzerland and Sweden in 2014.

However, on what was Benzema's first appearance for the world champions in five years and 237 days, the Real Madrid striker is pleased with how things went overall.

"There is a lot of pride and joy after that," he told TF1. "I had a good feeling going into the match after a good week of work and training. It's all about gaining momentum.

"It's been a difficult season with lots of matches. I feel good and that bodes well for the future.

"A match can often be like this with missed chances. The main thing is to create them and learn to do better next time."

Benzema may have endured a largely frustrating game in Nice, but he showed promising link-up play with goalscorers Mbappe and Griezmann in a star-studded front three.

"We tried hard," he said. "It's not easy against teams that use five defenders and play with a low block. That is something we will have to work on in training.

"But overall it was a good match. We worked hard and that is the most important thing today."

Mbappe's breakthrough goal for France arrived seven minutes after Benzema's penalty miss, awarded for Neco Williams' handball in front of goal that also resulted in a red card for the Wales defender.

France looked comfortable from that point on, with Griezmann curling home a second goal early in the second period and substitute Dembele tapping in a third.

The front three of Griezmann, Benzema and Mbappe will be arguably the most feared at the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, and head coach Didier Deschamps is happy to give the trio "complete freedom" up top.

"Karim was unhappy not to score but he was always there," Deschamps told TF1. "A goal would have made both him happy, and me too, but there's no harm in keeping them for later.

"There is no fixed position for the three attackers. I give them complete freedom. Their profiles are complementary. 

"Obviously when the ball is lost they know what needs to be done – they cannot disconnect from the others.

France's victory was their 19th in 24 matches and they now take on Bulgaria in their final friendly fixture ahead of facing Germany, Hungary and Portugal in a daunting Euro 2020 group.

"There's lots of good things to take out of this game," Deschamps said after seeing his side keep a third clean sheet in a row for the first time since October 2017.

"Obviously Wales had one less player and that made our jobs easier. We had lots of chances and it's good to conclude our first week together with this win. On another day the win could have been bigger, but it's a good start."

Karim Benzema missed a penalty and hit the post on his return to the France side, but the hosts took advantage of Neco Williams' contentious red card to beat 10-man Wales 3-0 in Wednesday's friendly at the Allianz Riviera.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was making his first international appearance since October 2015 in a star-studded starting line-up that also included Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, who both found the net.

Mbappe opened the scoring from close range shortly after Benzema had his penalty saved by Danny Ward following Williams' handball – an infringement that also saw the Liverpool youngster sent off after a lengthy VAR check.

Fellow forward Griezmann doubled France's tally early in the second half and substitute Ousmane Dembele added a third as the world champions saw out the job in their penultimate match before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign.

Benzema had a glancing header well saved by Ward and the Wales goalkeeper was then equal to the returning striker's spot-kick with a little under half an hour played in Nice.

However, Wales were down to 10 men at that point as Williams was harshly sent off for deliberately handling the ball in front of goal when blocking Benzema's shot, coming after Ward had produced another stop to keep out Paul Pogba.

France made the most of the extra man seven minutes later as Mbappe got his boot to a loose ball first following Ward's low save to keep out Adrien Rabiot's deflected effort.

Griezmann gave the hosts some breathing space with a curled finish into the top-left corner with 47 minutes played after some nice link-up play with Mbappe.

Dan James was played in by substitute Aaron Ramsey and forced Hugo Lloris into a rare save, with that proving to be Wales' best chance of ending a run that now spans eight away friendly matches without scoring.

There was still time for France to add a third goal late on through Dembele's simple finish after Benzema's shot crashed back off the post and into his path.

Karim Benzema was included in France's starting line-up for Wednesday's friendly with Wales in Nice, ending the Real Madrid striker's near six-year absence from the side.

The 33-year-old's most recent appearance for Les Blues came in October 2015 when scoring a brace against Armenia, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 international appearances.

He then became embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena - Benzema has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October - and was subsequently overlooked by Didier Deschamps.

That was until last month, however, when Benzema was surprisingly recalled to the squad ahead of the Euro 2020 finals after holding face-to-face talks with Deschamps.

The prolific striker's recall comes on the back of a campaign in which he scored 30 goals for Madrid in all competitions, 23 of those in LaLiga – behind only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

Some 68 months on from his last outing for France, Benzema was back involved on Wednesday in a star-studded front three alongside Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

The friendly at Allianz Riviera also marked a special occasion for Hugo Lloris, who was captaining his national side from the start of a game for the 100th time.

That is 46 more than any other player in Les Bleus history, with Deschamps next on the list.

Chelsea's Champions League-winning trio Kurt Zouma, N'Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud were not involved, while Thomas Lemar was also absent through injury.

Wales also named a strong line-up for their penultimate match before the European Championship finals get under way, with Gareth Bale captaining his side.

France captain Hugo Lloris says the return of Karim Benzema does not guarantee the world champions anything ahead of the 2020 European Championship.

Les Bleus take on Wales in a friendly on Wednesday ahead of Euro 2020, where France have a tough group alongside Germany, Hungary and Portugal.

Real Madrid forward Benzema, 33, has been recalled to the France squad for the first time in almost six years.

The forward had been frozen out by France head coach Didier Deschamps since 2015 having been embroiled in a blackmail scandal over a sex tape.

Benzema has forged an outstanding club career in the meantime, netting 23, 21 and 21 league goals over the past three seasons in Spain and looms as a major addition for the 2018 World Cup winners.

"Karim's return does not change anything," Lloris said at the pre-game news conference prior to the Wales friendly in Nice. "His reinstatement went well, it happened naturally.

"There is a lot of respect, even more from the younger players. There is admiration for what he has done in his career at Real Madrid. We ignore what is said from the outside.

"We have the talent but matches are won on the pitch and not on paper. It will be necessary for us to be strong as a team."

France loom as one of the favourites for Euro 2020, along with England, Belgium, Germany, Spain and reigning champions Portugal.

Lloris added: "Karim never gave up, he gave himself the chance to come back, and his presence adds talent to this generation, but there are no guarantees of success.

"It is up to us to create the conditions for a positive dynamic, to create an energy to enter this competition well and to stay there as long as possible, while remaining solid when it is more complicated."

Deschamps is expected to unleash Benzema alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann against the Dragons in a star-studded front line.

"Our performance will also depend on what everyone brings," Deschamps said.

"The midfielders, the full backs. I don't want to dissociate the three forwards from the rest of the team."

Carlo Ancelotti is back in charge of Real Madrid and has plenty on his plate after succeeding Zinedine Zidane.

The Italian called time on an 18-month stay at Everton in order to return to the club where he won the Champions League, Copa del Rey and Club World Cup in a spell between 2013 and 2015.

However, Ancelotti inherits a Real squad with plenty of question marks over it.

The Spanish giants have just endured their first trophyless season since 2009-10 and so there is plenty for the 61-year-old to consider as he starts his second stint.

Sergio Ramos' future

Ancelotti joins a Madrid side who are on the cusp of losing captain Sergio Ramos for nothing. The Spaniard has long been in talks over a new deal but, with his current contract days from expiry, no breakthrough seems imminent.

Although his last season was hampered by injury that has cost him a place at Euro 2020 with Spain, Ramos still proved his worth time and time again.

Looking at his performances in LaLiga, the 35-year-old posted better statistics in tackle success rate (80 per cent) and tackles won per 90 minutes (0.85) than any of his fellow Real centre-halves.

He was also dribbled past fewer times per 90 minutes (0.28) than Raphael Varane (0.3), Eder Militao (0.48) and Nacho (1.03).

These statistics could well be enough to convince Ancelotti to keep him around.

Does Hazard have a role?

With 21 appearances, four goals, and further injury issues all Eden Hazard has to show for last season, it has been suggested a departure could be the best outcome for all parties.

But Ancelotti will no doubt be tempted to try and get the best out of the Belgian as he looks to fix an attack that needs to offer a wider threat.

Karim Benzema remains from the Italian's first stint, but no other Madrid player got close to the French striker's 23 goals in LaLiga last term, with Casemiro (6), Marco Asensio and Luka Modric (both 5) next best.

Hazard could be key to bridging that gap if he can stay fit for long enough periods.

What next for returning loanees?

One man who could help on the goal front is Gareth Bale, who scored 11 times in 20 Premier League appearances for Tottenham during a season-long loan stay in 2020-21.

The Welshman first joined Real under Ancelotti in the summer of 2013 and could be more open to staying put with a manager who has faith in him after becoming frustrated under Zidane.

It remains to be seen what happens with Martin Odegaard, who will return from a loan spell at Arsenal where he impressed but perhaps not to the degree necessary to earn a starting place in Madrid.

The futures of Luka Jovic and Brahim Diaz are also uncertain as they return from Eintracht Frankfurt and Milan respectively.

One big sale?

With Real feeling the pinch of a season without supporters, it is likely that the new manager will have to generate his own funds in the transfer market.

And, with moving on fringe players likely to be tricky, the possibility of selling a more in-demand asset increases.

Raphael Varane is one possible contender as he heads into the final year of his contract amid reported interest from the likes of Manchester United.

The Frenchman established himself as a regular starter in Ancelotti's second season and has missed just 68 of the 266 league games played since that point.

Real conceded an average of 1.1 goal per game without Varane across the past seven seasons, and 0.9 in the fixtures in which he featured.

Interestingly, though, their win percentage rose to 73.5 per cent without him in the side from 66.2 per cent with - will these statistics inform the manager's decision?

One big signing?

Money may be tight at Real Madrid, but that won't stop them being linked to the biggest names in world football.

Kylian Mbappe is one of them, the Frenchman having enjoyed another remarkable season in which he scored more goals (21) and landed more shots on target (55) than anyone else in Ligue 1.

The 22-year-old also converted 60.5 per cent of his big chances - a rate that would help ease Real's problems with lack of goals outside of Benzema.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti can pull together the funds to start off his reign with such a high-profile signing.

Karim Benzema lauded the qualities of Zinedine Zidane as a coach and a man after his decision to leave the top job at Real Madrid for a second time.

It was announced on Thursday that Zidane would depart the hot seat at the Santiago Bernabeu after a season in which Madrid failed to win a trophy.

However, Zidane did lead them to the LaLiga title in 2019-20 and Benzema, speaking while on international duty after his surprise recall for France, was full of praise for the 48-year-old.

"He's a very great coach, on a human level, he's the perfect man," he said.

"With me, he's magnificent. I'm disappointed that he is leaving Real, but that's how it is. Life goes on."

Madrid ended the last campaign with an 18-game unbeaten streak (W13 D5) in LaLiga – the longest current undefeated run of any team in the competition, and their best such spell without a loss within the same league campaign since March 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti (W15 D3).

Benzema was involved in 32 goals in LaLiga this season (23 goals and nine assists), representing his best tally in a single campaign in the league after surpassing the 2015-16 term (31 – 24 goals and seven assists).

That form put him back in Didier Deschamps' plans ahead of France's Euro 2020 campaign, which begins against Germany on June 15.

Benzema had been frozen out by Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

He is now ready and raring to go once again on the international stage, where he is particularly looking forward to teaming up with Kylian Mbappe.

Asked how the Paris Saint-Germain striker stacks up against the world's best, Benzema said: "I don't like to compare, but he's a young player, a phenomenon.

"I was able to train with him, we play in one touch, there is movement, he puts a lot of speed, he is skilful. He's a very, very good player. "

Benzema won the most recent of his 81 caps for France against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice in that 4-0 friendly victory to take his Les Bleus goal tally to 27.

Captain Sergio Ramos told Zinedine Zidane he was "the one and only" as the Real Madrid head coach quit the Spanish giants.

Zidane stood down five days after his team missed out on the LaLiga title to Atletico Madrid, finishing second in the table, two points off top spot.

Madrid ended the season empty handed but have achieved plenty of success during Zidane's two spells in charge, which were separated by a chaotic nine months in which Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari both struggled to get to grips with the job.

It is unclear whether Zidane wants to work again as a coach, or whether he has other plans, but there was an outpouring of thanks from senior Madrid stars on Thursday.

Ramos said on Instagram: "ZZ, the one and only. I wish you all the best. You deserve it, you've earned it.

"Enjoy life, enjoy family. Big hug, mister. Thank you, @zidane."

High hopes and aspirations for Zidane's second stint in charge resulted in just one major title, the 2019-20 LaLiga.

With Cristiano Ronaldo having followed Zidane in leaving at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, success has not come quite as easily as it did previously, with three Champions League titles the highlight of his first period as boss.

Striker and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema wrote: "Thank you bro for everything you have given me both collectively and personally ...

"I am proud and honoured to have been able to move forward and grow with the man that you are. See you ..."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "It has been an honor to have a legend like you as a coach. Thank you for what you have taught me, for the trust you have always had in me and for what we have won together @zidane. Hopefully we meet again. I wish you the best!"

Zidane left Madrid with a 59.65 per cent winning record from his second spell, which began in March 2019, down on the 69.8 per cent he achieved in his previous 149 games at the helm.

It has been tougher without Ronaldo, who left for Juventus but has frequently been linked with a possible return that has yet to come to fruition.

In the first spell, which ran from January 2016 to the end of May 2018, Real Madrid had eight hat-tricks by players in LaLiga – Ronaldo with six of those – and a big chance conversion rate of 45.74 per cent.

Since returning to the club, Madrid have had just one hat-trick in the league, from Benzema, and their big chance conversion rate has dipped to 43.67 per cent overall and just 40.86 per cent in 2020-21 compared to Atletico's 48.19 per cent.

Veteran playmaker Luka Modric, a player whose skillset evokes memories of Zidane in his playing days for Los Blancos, only signed a new contract this week.

Modric must now wait to learn who his coach will be for the coming season, his 10th at Madrid.

The 35-year-old thanked Zidane for backing his ability to run games by saying: "Mister, It's been a great honor playing for you and winning alongside you. You are top. Best of luck"

Didier Deschamps said Karim Benzema is free to open up about the talks that led to his surprise France recall in the future, but the head coach said details of such discussions will not come from him.

Benzema was last week named in France's squad for the delayed European Championship following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by Deschamps since 2015 having been embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

His recall followed another hugely impressive season for Madrid in which he scored 30 goals in all competitions, with 23 of those in LaLiga, trailing only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

Reporters quizzing Deschamps on Wednesday were keen to know what he and Benzema discussed prior to the decision to end the former Lyon star's international exile.

But Deschamps would not oblige such requests.

"Karim said how he felt, I said how I felt too," he told a media conference. "I understand you want details, but they won't come from me, not from Karim either, for the moment. 

"If he wants to, he can. My decision comes from the fact that everything went well. 

"I have a group to manage, he was in this group, he is there again, here is the situation."

Deschamps addressed the issue of vaccination, with every adult in France now able to book a slot to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and the bubble the squad will remain in to reduce the risk of catching the virus.

He said: "I am not a doctor. Today, there is no obligation or recommendation from UEFA. Vaccination remains a personal decision. Some players may have been vaccinated on their own.  

"We made sure to vaccinate all the staff, who are a little older than the players. We are not 100 per cent protected, but we are in a very strict health bubble.

"We will make sure to be as vigilant as possible. From the moment a player is positive, it's over, he's leaving the competition. We all did a test today, everyone is used to it." 

Karim Benzema has set his sights on winning Euro 2020 with France after being left "a little shocked" by his recall to the national side.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was last week named in France's squad for their upcoming European Championship campaign following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by Didier Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

Benzema's recall comes on the back of a campaign in which he scored 30 goals for Madrid in all competitions, 23 of those in LaLiga – behind only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

However, the prolific attacker's return to Les Bleus' setup came as a surprise, even after holding face-to-face talks with Deschamps prior to the squad being announced.

"It was a special day," he told L'Equipe. "I received a lot of messages, there were rumours. I was waiting like everyone else, in front of the TV. I was really happy.

"It happened really fast, it was a feeling of joy and pride. I remembered all the moments when I never gave up. It was a little shock, it's been a long time!"

Benzema accused Deschamps of "bowing to the pressure of a racist part of France" after he lost his place in the side, but the pair quickly buried the hatchet.

"Deschamps didn't tell me. We talked a lot, it was a long conversation, but he never said to me: 'You'll be at the Euros'," Benzema said.

"The only thing he said was that we'd taken a big step together and that we'd see.

"We were face-to-face. We hadn't seen each other since 2015. It was good to talk, I've always gotten on well with him, after three minutes everything was back to normal."

Benzema won the most recent of his 81 caps for France against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice in that 4-0 friendly victory to take his Les Bleus goal tally to 27.

He was absent for France's World Cup triumph in 2018 and is now eager to make up for lost time by firing his country to success at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, which begins next month.

"I want to win a trophy with the France team," he said. "Anyone can say: 'It's a dream to win the Euros'.

"But the question is how to win it? And I answer that with the squad that we have, we can win it."

France begin their Group F campaign with a meeting against Germany in Munich on June 15, before facing Hungary and reigning champions Portugal.

Deschamps can also call upon the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud in attack, the latter of whom Benzema previously fell out with.

Benzema suggested last year that Giroud's talent pales in comparison to his own, but the Madrid striker insists he has no problems with his international colleague.

"Olivier, I saw him during the Chelsea match. We spoke, it was relaxed. He congratulated me for my goal," he said.

"It was good vibes, it was cool. I have already played with him, it will be the same as before."

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema does not believe head coach Zinedine Zidane will leave the Santiago Bernabeu amid growing doubts.

Zidane is widely expected to depart Madrid after a second spell in charge of the LaLiga giants, with former club and Serie A powerhouse Juventus a possible destination.

After claiming three consecutive Champions League titles and the LaLiga trophy in his first stint, Zidane returned to Madrid in 2019 and delivered another league crown last season.

However, Los Blancos were dethroned by city rivals Atletico Madrid this term.

As speculation mounts, Benzema told L'Equipe in a full interview to be published on Tuesday: "I don't see him leaving. He will not leave, you will see."

Madrid ended the 2020-21 season amid an 18-game unbeaten streak (W13 D5) in LaLiga – the longest current undefeated run of any team in the competition, and their best such run without a defeat within the same league campaign since March 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti (W15 D3).

Benzema was involved in 32 goals in LaLiga this season (23 goals and nine assists), his best tally in a single campaign in the league after surpassing the 2015-16 term (31 – 24 goals and seven assists).

Five out of the six assists provided by Rodrygo Goes ended in Benzema goals in LaLiga.

Mathieu Valbuena revealed he was not consulted by Didier Deschamps over the surprise recall of Karim Benzema to the France squad.

Real Madrid striker Benzema is due to stand trial in October regarding an allegation of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former France team-mate Valbuena over a sex tape.

The 33-year-old Benzema strenuously denies putting pressure on Valbuena to pay the alleged blackmailers, who were said to be threatening to release a video featuring the former Marseille and Lyon player.

Since the claims of blackmail emerged in late 2015, Benzema was dropped from the France squad and looked to have no future with Les Bleus, at least until his case was heard in court.

However, a surprise recall came on Tuesday when Benzema was selected for France's Euro 2020 squad, and he looks set for a key role in the team during that tournament.

Valbuena told RMC Sport: "Did the coach call me? No, and I don't expect anything from anyone. When you're at the top, everyone is talking about you; when you disappear a little from the radars, you expect nothing from anyone.

"I make my life, I enjoy myself on the pitch. I expect nothing from Didier or anyone else. If you want to know if he called me, I say no."

Now with Greek club Olympiacos, Valbuena, 36, also last played for France in 2015.

The 52-cap midfielder said he understood why Benzema was being brought back into Deschamps' squad.

"If he can bring more to the France team, so much the better for the Blues," Valbuena said.

"It will play out on the pitch. For me, Didier Deschamps comes out the winner in all cases. If the France team works, we will say that he had to adapt despite a difficult context.

"If France performs less, we will not blame him. That's what he knows how to do well, he knows how to make his squads. In attack, he has no guarantees, he made his choices. I think he will come out a winner either way."

Benzema scored a brace in a friendly against Armenia on his last appearance for France in October 2015.

His form for Real Madrid has often been exceptional in the years since, landing him three Champions Leagues and two LaLiga titles during his absence from the France squad.

Kylian Mbappe is delighted to get the chance to play alongside Karim Benzema at Euro 2020, declaring there are not many better players than the Real Madrid forward.

Benzema, 33, earned his first France call-up in over five years on Tuesday when he was included in Didier Deschamps' squad for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Mbappe, meanwhile, continued his excellent season with a brilliant display in Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Monaco in the Coupe de France final on Wednesday, teeing up Mauro Icardi's opener and scoring himself late on.

It was the eighth direct goal involvement of Mbappe's Coupe de France campaign (five games), topping his previous best of seven in the competition, set in 2017-18.

Yet the main focus in the post-match news conference was on Benzema's return to Les Bleus' squad.

"I'm very happy. I've always said that I wanted to play with great players," said Mbappe.

"Benzema, I didn't [play with him]. There is not many [players] above him in the world. He will bring us a lot.

"He played at Madrid for 10 years, the pressure, he knows, he has the experience and the talent above all. The big players adapt. I'm sure he will adapt very quickly."

Mbappe was also asked if he would be in place to help PSG push on for a 15th Coupe de France trophy next season.

"We must take advantage of this title," he answered with a smile, deflecting the question somewhat. 

"Look at all the people who are happy! This is most important. And I am the happiest!"

PSG have won two trophies this season under Mauricio Pochettino, and the Ligue 1 title race is going down to the wire. Should they beat Brest on Sunday, and Lille drop points against Angers, the capital club will snatch the top-flight crown.

"We work every day to have this type of emotion, reward and recognition," Mbappe added.

"It's the work of a whole group, a whole staff, who work every day for us, for the club. The supporters, the title is for them too.

"When you play for Paris Saint-Germain, one of the best clubs in the world, the biggest in the country, every title counts."

Monaco boss Niko Kovac, meanwhile, said there was one major difference between the teams at Stade de France.

"The difference tonight is Mbappe," he said.

"He is one of the best players in the world, if not the best at the moment. All the clubs are fighting to have him. We had him, we no longer have him."

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