In-form Karim Benzema faces bench-warmer Olivier Giroud for the first time as Real Madrid take on Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday, and while who prevails in that match is anyone’s guess, only the latter is set to represent France at the Euros in June.
Benzema, now 33 and a four-time Champions League winner who has netted 27 goals in 39 appearances this season, has not played for his country since October 2015.
A blackmailing scandal – over which Benzema faces a trial in October – and his 2016 comment that coach Didier Deschamps had “bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France” when leaving the player, a Muslim of Algerian descent, out of the Euros squad that year have put his international career in a deep freeze.
Giroud, whose playing time at Chelsea has been shrinking under new coach Thomas Tuchel, has never won the Champions League and only has four goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season.
But the 34-year-old lifted the 2018 World Cup and is now France’s second-highest scorer of all time behind Thierry Henry.
He has been a regular for France in the last six years, possibly benefiting from the absence of Benzema, who has made disparaging comments about his fellow Frenchman.
“You can’t compare karting and Formula One, and I’m being kind,” Benzema said in reference to Giroud on Instagram last year.
In a recent poll by French sports daily L’Equipe, readers voted for Benzema and Giroud both to feature in France’s squad for the Euros, reigniting debate and fuelling criticism of the Chelsea man.
“I have used these critics to toughen up,” said Giroud. “It’s unfair because I hadn’t asked for anything.”
Despite scoring 10 goals in his last 10 outings for Real and countless calls from former France internationals to Deschamps to recall him to the national team, Benzema has close to zero chance of going to the Euros.
“It left a mark. Even if with time it gets better, I cannot forget,” Deschamps said in January of his spat with Benzema in 2016.
In contrast, Giroud is almost guaranteed a spot in the Euro squad, even though he has only taken part in six of 17 Premier League games this year.
Whatever happens on Tuesday – when he might not even play – Giroud looks set to have the last laugh come June.
“Anyway, he’s in his corner and I’m in my corner,” Benzema said of Giroud on Instagram last year.