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Donetsk, Ukraine – Tipped to be France's lethal weapon, Karim Benzema is still to score at Euro 2012 ahead of a quarterfinal with Spain on Saturday when he will come up against several of his Real Madrid team-mates.
Having scored a brace in France's last warm-up match, against Estonia, Benzema appeared to be arriving at the tournament with his confidence sky-high.
However, three matches later, that confidence does not appear quite so evident, despite his two assists in the 2-0 defeat of Ukraine.
Deprived of space in the 1-1 draw with England, he found himself out-muscled in the 2-0 loss to Sweden that condemned France to a second-place finish in Group D and a daunting encounter with world and European champions Spain.
“Karim would like to score a goal. He's had a few chances so far but unfortunately he's not been able to,” said France coach Laurent Blanc.
“It might be a problem with the team, but the circumstances mean that luck hasn't been with him so far.”
Benzema's bluntness in front of goal is a worry for France, especially as he will feel under extra scrutiny against Iker Casillas and his other Madrid team-mates, with whom he won this season's Spanish league title.
With 32 goals in 52 matches, Benzema has increased his influence in the Madrid changing room, but it is no guarantee of success when he comes face to face with them on the pitch at Donetsk's Donbass Arena.
“He's frustrated not to have scored,” admits France midfielder Florent Malouda.
“The best present we can give him, knowing that he'll be going back to Spain, is to help him go back with his head high, having commanded the respect of his (Real Madrid) team-mates.”
In Madrid's fluid attacking system, the former Lyon striker seems to play with greater freedom than with France, when everything rests on the shoulders of a man who has already played 63 matches this season.
And even though he has scored 15 goals in 48 international appearances at the age of only 24, he has only scored twice in his last nine matches, with both goals coming against unheralded Estonia.
The opening three matches at the Euro answered a number of questions about the configuration of France's triple-pronged attack.
Benzema and Franck Ribery have demonstrated a promising understanding on the left side of the pitch, but both players have struggled to link up with the enigmatic and occasionally over-elaborate Samir Nasri.
With only two of their attacking elements in full working order, it is perhaps no surprise that France have looked short of fire-power.
Frustrated by the lack of chances created for him by his team-mates, Benzema reportedly made his feelings known in the post-match shouting match that erupted after the defeat by Sweden.
After the win over Ukraine, he had expressed his satisfaction at having Nasri play closer to him than in the opening draw with England.
“Nasri played higher up,” said Benzema, who trails only Madrid colleague Cristiano Ronaldo in the attempts-at-goal statistics.
“It was much better – I could make runs in behind and free up space. So it's important for him to be closer to me.”
On Saturday, against Spain, he is hoping for greater room to manoeuvre than he was granted by the Swedes in Kiev on Tuesday.
“Against Spain, who are a team that plays football, we'll have more space,” he said. “The confidence is still there, but we need to get back to work.”
If France prevail, another familiar face will await in the semi-finals, with his changing-room ally Ronaldo already through to the last four with Portugal. – Sapa-AFP