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France's Mbappe a phenomenon - Matuidi

 By Ian Holyman

Didier Deschamps omits 'pitiful' Karim Benzema from France squad

France coach Didier Deschamps has called Karim Benzema "pitiful" and warned the Real Madrid striker "a squad comes before everything" after prolonging his international exile.

In an interview with L'Equipe published on Wednesday, Benzema, 29, reiterated his call for Deschamps to give him an explanation for not having called him up since he last played for his country in October 2015.

When Deschamps unveiled his list for next month's friendlies with Paraguay and England as well as the 2018 World Cup qualifier in Sweden, Benzema's name was again absent.

Benzema recently "liked" a social post by the French rapper Booba which super-imposed the heads of Deschamps, Olivier Giroud and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls onto the three Atletico Madrid defenders the Real forward brilliantly skipped away from to set up his team's first goal in the Champions League second leg.

"It's pitiful," was Deschamps' withering response when asked to give his thoughts.

Pressed to explain Benzema's absence, which was initially put down to his alleged involvement in the ongoing investigation into attempted extortion of his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Deschamps suggested the Madrid forward's inability to fit into the squad was a major factor.

"I'll give you an answer. The French team was built before the Euro, and was consolidated through the competition in which France managed to get to the final. It continued to be so in the qualifying games," he said.

"I have a squad in which there is harmony. I have faith in the players, who have paid me back on the pitch. I have brought in young players, because they have a lot of potential. I'm the only one who decides, and I take decisions based on sporting reasons.

"For me, I have always thought a squad comes before everything. I always make decisions for the good of the French national team. I always talk with my technical staff before I announce a squad. I have always done that, I am changing nothing."

While Benzema was left out, there was a recall for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, who has also not played for Les Bleus since October 2015, while Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma was another long-time absentee returned to the fold as Deschamps unveiled a 26-man selection.

"Alexandre has had a very good season with Lyon," said Deschamps of the striker who has scored 26 league goals this term. "I wanted to show to him, like some others, that he belongs to the France squad. It's up to him to take advantage of the playing time he gets.

"For Kurt, he's coming back from a big injury, he's not had a lot of playing time at Chelsea, but there is a lot of competition. They're not champions of England for nothing."

Ian is ESPN's French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman


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