NICE, France (AP) Karim Benzema ended a one-year scoring drought with his national team in style, netting two goals and setting up another as France beat Armenia 4-0 in a friendly match on Thursday.
Benzema scored twice late in the second half after providing the assist to Antoine Griezmann for France’s opener before Yohan Cabaye made it 2-0.
Benzema’s 26th and 27th goals with France sealed Didier Deschamps’s third consecutive win following victories over Portugal and Serbia. As host, France is qualified for the 2016 Euro and relies on friendly matches to get ready for the tournament.
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Benzema, the current Spanish league’s top scorer, was replaced with 10 minutes left after picking up an injury to his left thigh.
”Hopefully it won’t be too serious,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. ”Our opponents did not really let us play, but it had been a long time since we scored four goals, that’s a good thing.”
As expected, France was in total control against a team sitting second from bottom in its qualifying group. After a five-year absence, midfielder Lassana Diarra marked his return to the national team with an excellent display in a sentinel role in front of the back four while the partnership between Benzema and Griezmann looks a promising one.
With Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba out with an ankle injury, Diarra was given a starting role alongside Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi in a 4-3-3 formation.
The hosts’ first chance came after five minutes when Cabaye’s strike from the edge of the box took a deflection and ended over the bar.
France’s pressing nearly paid off as Patrice Evra’s cross was deflected by defender Hovhannes Hambardzumyan, forcing keeper Gevorg Kasparov to parry the ball over with a reflex save.
France’s domination remained fruitless, though, and Armenia could have scored against the run of the play in the 18th minute after Diarra made a rare mistake in an otherwise immaculate display. After he gave the ball away, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Henrikh Mkhitarian opened up French defense but striker Artur Sarkisov could not connect with Karlen Mkrtchyan’s cross in front of the open goal.
It took 30 minutes before Benzema fired the first strike on target, with Kasparov making an easy save. Pegged back in their half, the Armenians finally conceded when Griezmann hit the ball between Kasparov’s legs and into the top right corner after playing a quick one-two with Benzema.
Cabaye gave France more room to breathe in the 55th minute with a curled shot at the far post from Mathieu Valbuena’s cut-back pass as France applied a faster pace.
Armenia defenders cracked in the last 12 minutes, with Benzema first heading in a corner from Griezmann in the top left corner. The Real Madrid forward doubled his tally seconds later after making the most of substitute Anthony Martial’s pass.
France’s next friendly is away at Denmark on Sunday.