French federation president closes door to Benzema's return

PARIS — Karim Benzema's hopes of returning to France's national soccer team appear to be shrinking.

In an interview with local newspaper Ouest France published Wednesday, French soccer federation president Noel Le Graet played down the Real Madrid striker's chances of a recall.

"I believe that it's over for him with Les Bleus, especially since he may have been less fit for some time," Le Graet said.

Benzema, whose last game with France was in October 2015, has been named in the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or award for the best player of the year. But his relationship with France coach Didier Deschamps remains frosty.

Deschamps has not called up Benzema since he claimed that the national team coach bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France when agreeing to leave him out of the group of players for the 2016 European Championship.

Benzema's suspected involvement in an extortion scam over a sex tape featuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena also did not help his case.

"It's been three or four years that (this case) has been dragging," Le Graet said. "A ruling should have been issued much earlier. It made things hard for us."

Benzema, who scored 27 international goals in his 81 appearances with France, asked Le Graet to give him a break in a response posted on Twitter.

"Mr. Le Graet I ask you to forget about me and to leave me in peace," Benzema wrote. "France is world champion and that's the essential thing. The rest is just futile. Thank you."

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