Soccer

Benzema hits back at critics

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates his goal against Galatasaray during the Champions League quarter-final, first leg soccer match at Santiago Bern
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema has vowed to start scoring again.
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PARIS (AP)

Karim Benzema hit back at criticism of his perceived lack of work rate, saying he does run enough and insisting that when he starts scoring again the goals will flow.

Tipped as a future great when he started his club career with Lyon in prodigious fashion, Benzema is going through his worst spell for France - without a goal in 15 matches - and has been out of sorts for Real Madrid this season.

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Benzema has not scored in five games for Madrid and recently clashed with defender Pepe during the loss to visitors Atletico Madrid. The fans have even jeered him at some home games and coach Carlo Ancelotti has urged him to show more character.

"It's the longest (barren) spell of my career. It won't last 10 years. I think it will be over soon," Benzema said on Wednesday. "When I score one I think many more will follow."

His last international goal was in a friendly against Estonia before last year's European Championship in June.

"People can judge me on goals because I have the number nine on my back. But I don't just have scoring in mind, I want the team to win," said Benzema, who has 15 goals from 60 caps. "Things are a bit more difficult than in previous years, but that's part of a career at the highest level."

The 25-year-old started the season decently enough but then the goals dried up and he has netted only twice in eight league games.

During the 1-0 defeat to city rival Atletico on Sept. 28, Pepe appeared to directly reproach Benzema for not working hard enough, although he reportedly apologized to Benzema afterward.

"There was an article recently that showed I run 10 kilometers per game. You can't say that I don't run," Benzema said at France's training camp. "You can't ask a striker to run all the way back to goal."

Benzema was pressed further on whether he has the right work ethic.

"What's the attitude (problem), then? Carlo Ancelotti didn't say that exactly, he said that me and (Angel) Di Maria didn't have the same defensive role," Benzema said. "I'm a striker, so of course I'm the first who should be tracking back. But a striker's there to score goals. I'm the first player who should be tracking back, but I'm not there to play right back or No. 6 (defensive midfield)."

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Benzema was criticized by former national coach Raymond Domenech when he said he didn't feel like giving his all after he had gone on as a substitute during a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Romania.

Ancelotti has also reproached Benzema.

"If I had to pick a fault, I think he has to show more personality on the pitch," Ancelotti told sports daily L'Equipe last month. "He's an experienced player, he's played a lot of top-level games, but he doesn't speak enough on the pitch."

His lack of form, and the emergence of Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud this season, means that Benzema's place as first choice No. 9 is under threat.

This was shown during last month's qualifiers. He was taken off by coach Didier Deschamps against Georgia and benched against Belarus.

"That's the way it goes, sometimes you're on the bench. At the end of the game I was happy for everyone," Benzema said. "It's not a case of understanding or whatever. The coach makes choices."

Perhaps sensing his chance to take Benzema's slot, Giroud said in a recent interview with France Football that he deserves the chance to be France's No. 1.

"I'm not claiming anything. There's no No. 1, 2 or 3. Whoever's on the pitch must help the team win," Benzema said. "(Giroud's) a good forward. He's playing well. There's competition everywhere, but we're here to help the team. It's not Giroud vs. Benzema."

Benzema was asked if he has planned a celebratory dance if he ends his drought in Friday's friendly against Australia.

"A dance? I don't think so," he said. "I will see what happens at the time ... maybe."

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