Zidane hails Benzema as best ever France forward

MADRID (AFP) – Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed Karim Benzema as the best centre-forward in French history after his match-winning double against Athletic Bilbao put them joint top of La Liga on Tuesday.

Bilbao’s Ander Capa had cancelled out Toni Kroos’s thumping strike before Benzema, 32, struck twice late on, heading home a cross with 16 minutes remaining and finishing clinically in stoppage time from Luka Modric’s pass. Afterwards Zidane had no hesitation in declaring Benzema as France’s best ever centre-forward, putting him at the top of a list that includes Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe, Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine.

“For me, he’s the best – it’s very clear,” said Zidane, the French midfield legend who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus.

“He’s proved it – he’s played at Real Madrid for a very long time, he has more than 500 appearances, all his goals… his record, all he’s accomplished here speaks for itself,” Zidane added.

Benzema arrived at Real Madrid from Lyon in 2009, but was long overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo until the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s move to Juventus in 2018.

On Saturday, Benzema’s 529th match for Real, he broke Roberto Carlos’ record for the most appearances by a non-Spanish player. Benzema is also their top scorer this season.

“He’s a more mature player these days,” said Zidane. “But he’s always shown that he’s not a pure nine, he doesn’t only think about scoring.

“That’s why I like him so much, I love him, he’s not only thinking about goals. He gets involved in the game, if he needs to pass to a teammate he’ll do it.”

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema celebrates with coach Zinedine Zidane after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match against Athletic Club Bilbao at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid on December 15. PHOTO: AFP