EPL stars Payet, Kante called up for France squad, Benzema left out
France coach Didier Deschamps has called up West Ham playmaker Dimitri Payet and Leicester’s midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante for friendlies against Holland and Russia but there was no room for Karim Benzema.
Deschamps called talk of a recall for Real Madrid striker Benzema "tiring".
"I’m here to select and I will select. Everyone is free to have an opinion," Deschamps said. "There are two people who will decide: my president (French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet) and me."
French newspaper Le Parisien had earlier reported that Benzema would be absent from the squad, citing Le Graet as its source, meaning his absence was expected on Thursday.
Benzema has not been part of Les Bleus’ set-up since October’s friendly against Armenia, after which he was questioned by police in connection with an alleged blackmail plot against international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape reportedly showing the Lyon midfielder.
The 28-year-old was released from custody but was ordered not to have any contact with Valbuena, effectively ruling him out of contention for Deschamps’ squad.
That restriction was rescinded last week, since when speculation has surrounded Benzema’s potential return.
Valbuena was absent from the latest France squad too, with Deschamps considering the Lyon player unfit for international duty.
Payet has shone in the Barclays Premier League for West Ham, while uncapped Kante has helped to drive Leicester to the brink of winning the English title.
Kante took the place of Manchester United’s Morgan Schneiderlin in Deschamps’ squad.
"N’Golo Kante is putting in high-level performances," Deschamps said, in a press conference shown on fff.fr.
As for Schneiderlin, Deschamps added: "It’s not that I don’t have confidence in Morgan, I know what he can do, but before making final decisions (on the Euro 2016 squad) it’s important that N’Golo comes with us to get more answers."
France squad for friendly matches against Holland on March 25 and Russia on March 29: Lloris, Mandanda, Costil; Sagna, Jallet, Evra, Digne, Varane, Koscielny, Sakho, Mathieu; Pogba, Matuidi, Diarra, Sissoko, Kante, Cabaye; Griezmann, Martial, Giroud, Coman, Gignac, Payet.