France coach Didier Deschamps will call up Karim Benzema to his 26-man squad for Euro 2020, sources told ESPN, despite the striker facing trial for alleged blackmail. The decision comes more than five years since Benzema’s last cap.
Deschamps will announce his squad on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET live on French television.
After being a key player for the national team coach from 2012 when Deschamps took over from Laurent Blanc, the two men fell out over Benzema’s alleged involvement in the Mathieu Valbuena sex tape scandal.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, Benzema accused Deschamps of having “bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France” when agreeing to leave him out of the squad.
The Real Madrid striker is suspected of pressuring Valbuena in 2015 to pay blackmailers who threatened to reveal an intimate video in which Valbuena featured. Benzema will stand trial from Oct. 20-22 on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail. He denies any wrongdoing.
While Deschamps has not picked Benzema since October 2015 and said he would “never forget” Benzema’s comments, he has never stated that he would not call him up again. Benzema was named best French player in a foreign league by the French professional footballers’ union on Sunday.
Four other people will also stand trial over the attempted blackmail scheme. When the story broke, Benzema faced a deluge of criticism, and then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he had “no place” in the national team.
Benzema, who will hope to win La Liga with Real Madrid on the final day of the season this week, has starred for Zinedine Zidane’s men this season, with 22 goals and eight assists in 33 league matches.
Sources told ESPN that Benzema never lost hope of playing again for France and that he had always felt he could bring something to the team. Sources added that Benzema held out hope of a reconciliation with Deschamps and that the plan is for the striker to return as a starter in the country’s first choice XI.
Benzema will form a front three with Paris Saint-Germain‘s Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona‘s Antoine Griezmann, who are both big fans of the returning striker. Griezmann has played with Benzema for France before, including in his last cap, away in Armenia in October 2015, when they both scored.
Euro 2020, suspended from last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, kicks off on June 11. France are in Group F along with Hungary, Portugal and Germany. Benzema has appeared 81 times for France and scored 27 goals.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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