COMMENT: The forward performed poorly as France were knocked out of the World Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Germany in the quarter-final at the Maracana on Friday
When Karim Benzema smashed two goals against Honduras in France’s World Cup opener, it looked like he had answered the many critics who questioned before the tournament whether he should even start for the national team.
He followed it up with a goal against Switzerland and it felt as though the striker was finally reproducing on the big stage the club form that saw him score 24 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid in 2013-14.
But as les Blues were knocked out of the World Cup by Germany at the quarter-final stage here, Benzema went into hiding.
It’s one thing doing it against relative minnows, but quite another to lead an attack against world-class opposition. Benzema could not as Mat Hummels’ first-half header booked Germany their fourth World Cup semi-final place in a row.
His performance also summed up why Real Madrid are pushing ahead with a deal to sign Radamel Falcao.
As Barcelona close in on a top quality striker with an €88 million deal for Luis Suarez, their great rivals need to respond in kind.Benzema is a very good player and scored plenty of goals last season alongside Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, but he is not in that stellar bracket.
His performance against Germany provided further proof, if Madrid executives needed it.
After a poor display in the last-16 victory over Nigeria, the 26-year-old again ambled through the game looking disinterested for most of the 90 minutes.
Talk in the build-up to the match centred around the famous semi-final clash between the teams in 1982, one of the best in the tournament’s history as Germany won on penalties following a 3-3 draw in which Harald Schumacher brutally took out Patrick Battiston.
This could hardly have been more different. It was tame, sterile, almost boring. And Benzema encapsulated France’s meek surrender with a display that harked back to the qualifying campaign when people felt he should only be a substitute behind Olivier Giroud.
Hummels was supposed to be ill, one of seven Germany players struck by flu-like symptoms, but produced an utterly dominant performance against the former Lyon man.
Not that it was too difficult as Benzema barely made an attempt to get away from the German centre-backs and fluffed his lines when chances did fall to him.
In a tight quarter-final against one of the tournament favourites, you have to be ruthless. Benzema wasn’t and isn’t.
In the seventh minute, Mathieu Valbuena chipped the ball towards the France No. 10, but the volley from 12 yards went well wide of the near post.
Later in the opening period, the ball fell for Benzema after Manuel Neuer had made a superb save to deny Valbuena. In the six-yard box with the ball popping up, it was the kind of chance that Falcao or Suarez would pounce on, but Benzema could not co-ordinate his body quick enough and his rebound was blocked by Mats Hummels.
A few minutes later, Benzema did well to work space to shoot in the box but fired tamely straight at Neuer.
And when France were staring at elimination, their star striker offered virtually nothing in the second-half until he came alive to force Neuer into a sharp save in the dying moments.
It was not enough for France. And it may not be enough for Madrid for much longer.