EURO 2016

FFF chief on Benzema: "We didn't want to risk team spirit"

Le Graët: "Did you see Griezmann last night against Barcelona? And the young players we have coming through? Frankly I’m not worried."

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FFF chief on Benzema: "We didn't want to risk team spirit"
PATRIK STOLLARZ AFP

Karim Benzema was axed from France's Euro 2016 squad so as not to "disrupt the spirit" in the national squad, French football chief Noël Le Graët told sports daily L'Equipe on Thursday.

The French Football Federation (FFF) president added that the Real Madrid striker had "done something really stupid" over the Mathieu Valbuena sex tape affair.

The 28-year-old forward was indefinitely suspended from the France team in December after he was placed under criminal investigation over an attempt to blackmail France teammate Valbuena in relation to a sex-tape. Benzema has been accused of complicity in the attempt.

Legal restrictions barring Benzema from coming into contact with Valbuena were recently lifted, but on Wednesday the FFF announced that, even so, he would not be selected for the June 10-July 10 tournament.

Le Graët, in an interview published on L'Equipe's website, said: "The deciding factor was the way the squad got on during the training camp [in March]. We felt there was a strong harmony. On the pitch, we felt they were conducting themselves so well that it wasn't worth taking the risk of disrupting that spirit."

He reported that Benzema had been shaken up at the decision when he was told of it by France coach Didier Deschamps. "After speaking to Karim, Didier told me he was very, very, very sad," Le Graët reported.

However, the FFF chief said he believed France’s chances of winning the European Championship on home soil would be unaffected by the Real Madrid striker’s absence. “Did you see Griezmann last night against Barcelona? And the young players we have coming through? Frankly I’m not worried. Our objective remains the same, which is to reach the semi-finals or go further if possible.”

Reflecting on the Valbuena case, Le Graët said: "I hope first of all that this affair results in a dismissal of the charges for Karim. Let me repeat, I've a lot of affection for him. But here, all the same, he's done something really stupid."

According to investigators, Benzema was approached by a childhood friend from Lyon, Karim Zenati, who asked him to persuade Valbuena to pay money to have the tape destroyed. Instead, Valbuena went to the police.

Three men were arrested and held in custody over the demands to Valbuena, but they were subsequently released. Benzema has denied any wrongdoing but could face a five-year jail term if found guilty.

The affair has gone right to the top of government in France, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying last month that Benzema should not be allowed to return to the national team while he remains at the centre of the investigation.