For Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery,the misery goes on.
The France forwards came into the European Championship full of confidence after career-best goal hauls for their clubs last season but neither player has been able to justify their lofty reputations.
After failing to score in the disappointing 2-0 loss to Sweden on Tuesday,Benzema and Ribery will head into Saturday’s quarterfinal against Spain without a goal between them this tournament and with coach Laurent Blanc expecting much more.
Widely considered France’s most likely match winner,Benzema is struggling,in particular,and has hardly managed a shot on target so far.
I’m not going to think about whether I score every time (I play), Benzema said. Sometimes you won’t score for 10 games,then you will go on a run and score for 10 (games). The chances will come when you get passes.
The dynamic forward has just enjoyed a breakthrough season at Real Madrid,scoring 21 goals in the Spanish league and combining well with Cristiano Ronaldo,but he has scored only three times in his last 15 games for Les Bleus.
I tried things. We all did, Benzema said. But we can’t hide or make things up. None of us were good enough tonight,except for the goalkeeper (Hugo Lloris). We just weren’t in it.
In tournament play,Benzema hasn’t scored in five matches,including games at Euro 2008,and he never really looked like finding the net against the Swedes.
Like all scorers he needs to score,he wants to score. He can feel frustrated because he’s not scoring,but he’s still trying a lot of things, said Blanc,who had tipped Benzema to score against Sweden. ”I hope he gets off the mark in the quarterfinal against Spain.”
He is making a habit of drifting wide left to create the room he needs to run at defenders but this made him easy to mark for Sweden’s defense,allowing its rugged center halves to push up and provide the midfield with extra support.
Benzema had one difficult chance in the 18th minute,when Ribery’s cross arrived into his feet at speed,but he rushed his shot and it went over.
Ribery,who contributed 12 goals for Bayern Munich in the German league,had France’s only real chance of the game early on,but drilled the ball at goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson. He hasn’t scored in a tournament since opening the scoring against Spain in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.
Benzema tried his luck with two other snapshots,one which went well wide and the other which was charged down.
We tried to get things going a couple of times,but it didn’t come off for us, Benzema said. They dominated us for the whole game. We’ve qualified,but we’re all disappointed. We weren’t good enough either collectively or individually.
One minute before halftime,Benzema finally got the space he was looking for. He ran at the heart of Sweden’s defense,forcing it to back off,and slipped the ball through to Ribery,who saw his effort well blocked by veteran defender Olof Mellberg.
The small pocket of French fans inside Kiev’s Olympic Stadium tried to get the striker going with chants of ”Benzema,Benzema” and he curled a shot wide of the post in the 50th after cutting inside lumbering right back Andreas Granqvist.
Benzema found some of his form again when he showed good awareness in the 66th to expertly cushion a high ball and feed Ribery,whose shot was blocked by the massed ranks in Sweden’s defense.
While their link-up play was impressive at times,their finishing remains disappointing although Blanc is unlikely to be contemplating dropping his most potent attackers who have proved themselves at the highest level for their clubs,if not on the international stage.
Ahead of the Spain match,Blanc gave reserve forwards Jeremy Menez and Olivier Giroud a chance to impress by throwing them on as substitutes but they also wasted chances late on.
Hatem Ben Arfa,meanwhile,had a poor match on the right wing after being given his chance after an impressive season with Newcastle.
With his main forwards failing to score,and the back up attackers also fluffing their chances,Blanc will have much thinking to do before taking on the Spanish.
Benzema remains confident that he will do better against Spain.
Hopefully,we’ll get more room,as the Spanish like to play more (football), he said. If we want to do something at this Euro we can’t play the same way. I hope we will make up for our mistakes.