Benzema on target
KARIM Benzema took his tally of international goals to 23 on Sunday with a double as France started their World Cup campaign in fine style with a 3-0 win over Honduras in Porto Alegre.
However, it was the first time in three tries that the Real Madrid hitman had delivered for his country at a major international tournament.
The most high-profile of the much touted 1987 French generation that has failed to produce the early results they promised on the international stage, Benzema is now in his prime at 26 and finally looks capable of dealing with the responsibility of leading the French attack.
"I am very satisfied that the team won and, from a personal point of view, I managed to score two goals," he said. "I just want to play my football without thinking about any pressure."
Benzema's status as the key component in Didier Deschamps' system has been enhanced by the withdrawal of Franck Ribery due to a back injury.
On Sunday, Benzema was flanked by the creative duo of Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena and, although Deschamps was keen to hail his team's performance as a whole, he reserved special words of praise for Benzema.
"Karim is, of course, the man who was decisive. He scored the goals. This evening I made a choice, given that our opponents have an offensive line that was very athletic.
"Be it Karim, Antoine or Mathieu, they all played very well, as did the midfield - that allowed us to break down the Hondurans."
Benzema has come into the tournament off the back of his best season in five years at Real Madrid, winning the club's much sought-after 10th European Cup as well as Spain's Copa del Rey.
However, despite scoring 24 goals in all competitions for Los Blancos, he was still more commonly looked upon as a facilitator for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, rather than a star in his own right.
"I am happy and I am proud of my goals, but the important thing is the victory," he added as he picked up his man-of-the-match award. "As a striker, sometimes people evaluate me on the number of goals I score, but the most important thing is that I am playing well and the team wins."
That unselfish attitude has allowed him to win over Real's sceptical fans in recent months and become a favourite of Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Yet, his future in the Spanish capital is still uncertain. His contract expires at the end of next season and talks over a new deal appear to have stalled.
The World Cup is the perfect stage for Benzema to prove he is a man both club and country can rely on.