Benzema set to win Ballon d’Or after Real Madrid exploits

PARIS: Karim Benzema is the big favorite to win the men’s Ballon d’Or at a ceremony in Paris on Monday and thus becomes the first Frenchman to win football’s most prestigious individual award since Zinedine Zidane almost a quarter ago century.

There are 30 nominees but the Real Madrid striker is the top contender after his stellar performances last season helped his club win the Champions League and La Liga.

Benzema has scored 44 goals in 46 games for his club, including 15 in the Champions League.

His exploits included a hat-trick in 17 second-half minutes against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, and another at Chelsea in the quarter-final first leg. He also scored three more goals in the two legs of the semi-final against Manchester City.

Benzema was named UEFA Player of the Year in August, and he is enjoying a wonderful twilight of his career with the World Cup ahead.

A former outcast, banned from the France squad for five and a half years due to his involvement in a sex tape blackmail scandal involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema has put that behind him and is playing the best football of his career. with his 35th birthday approaching the day after the World Cup final.

“What is most important to me is to win collective trophies. If you do things well on the pitch, individual awards will follow,” Benzema pointed out recently.

His victory at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital seems inevitable.

“If they don’t cancel it, he will probably win that Ballon d’Or,” Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski said this week.

It was a joke from the Pole, who surely would have been crowned in 2020 if that year’s award hadn’t been canceled due to the pandemic.

– No Messi –

Normal service was restored last year when Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or for the seventh time, but he’s not even nominated this time after a disappointing season at Paris Saint-Germain.

Cristiano Ronaldo is nominated but there is no Neymar on the list.

Aside from Benzema, there are four other members of Real’s Champions League-winning squad: Vinicius, perennial Luka Modric, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and now Manchester United midfielder Casemiro.

Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Lewandowski and Kevin De Bruyne also feature, but Benzema stands out from afar.

If Benzema wins, he will be the fifth Frenchman to do so, after Raymond Kopa in 1958, Michel Platini (1983, 1984, 1985), Jean-Pierre Papin (1991) and Zidane (1998).

The award was previously based on a player’s performance over the calendar year.

But the format has changed, with the award now based on a player’s record over the last season.

– Putellas will retain the women’s award? –

There is much less certainty about the identity of what will be the fourth women’s Ballon d’Or.

Three members of England’s European Championship-winning team are shortlisted from among the 20 contenders.

Lucy Bronze and Millie Bright have both been named, but Arsenal striker Beth Mead is the likeliest candidate after scoring six goals at the Euros.

Australian Sam Kerr and German duo Lena Oberdorf and Alexandra Popp may also have their say, but it could also be Spaniard Alexia Putellas again, who won last year.

The 28-year-old is currently recovering from a serious knee injury which caused her to miss the Euros with Spain and means she is unlikely to play at all this season.

Putellas, who followed in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg and Megan Rapinoe in winning a year ago, captained Barcelona to the Champions League final last season as well as a league and cup double.

She was the Champions League top scorer with 11 goals, although her club lost the final to Lyon.

Winners will also receive digital tokens (NFTs) to go with their sparkling trophies, while organizers France Football magazine have also added a new humanitarian prize.

It is named after Socrates, the former Brazilian midfielder who also held a medical degree.

The prize “will list the best social initiative of committed champions”, specified France Football. -AFP

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