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According to Lionel Messi, there is “no doubt” that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema deserves to win his first Ballon d’Or award this year.

Messi has won a record seven Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s best player, but saw his new club Paris Saint-Germain eliminated by Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League this year — after Benzema scored a hat trick in the second half of the return leg.

Benzema netted another four goals against Chelsea in the quarterfinals and three against Manchester City in the semifinals — including the decisive penalty in extra time of the second leg — before Madrid defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the final on Saturday. Benzema was also the top scorer in the Spanish league as Madrid won the title in dominant fashion.

“There’s no doubt, its very clear that Benzema had a spectacular year,” Messi said in an interview to Argentine TV channel TyC Sports when asked if Benzema should get the prestigious award. “I think there is no doubt this year.”

In total, Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 matches with his club this season, and equaled Madrid great Raúl González as the club’s second-highest scorer with 323 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo leads that tally with 451.

While Madrid knocked out a quartet of European giants on their way to the Champions League title, Messi wasn’t overly impressed with the team’s style of play. Madrid needed big comebacks against both PSG and Man City and had Benzema to thank both times.

“Out of the blue they score against you, and the match changes automatically,” Messi said about this Madrid team. “Madrid was not the best team in this Champions League, there were better teams.”

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Karim Benzema’s punishing header crushed Chelsea’s remarkable comeback as Real Madrid lost 3-2 at the Bernabeu Stadium but reached the Champions League semi-finals 5-4 on aggregate.

Ruthless France hit man Benzema produced a carbon-copy of the two headed goals he scored in last week’s quarter-final first-leg at Stamford Bridge, where his hat-trick had Real expecting to stroll into the last four.

Champions League holders Chelsea turned up in Madrid with other ideas however, big ideas in fact, of a memorable and odds-defying comeback in this pulsating second-leg.

The Blues shook off their 3-1 deficit from the first leg and took Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid apart.

Mason Mount, Toni Rudiger and Timo Werner put the Blues 3-0 up and on the very cusp of completing that miracle of Madrid, and that with a Marcos Alonso effort chalked off for handball.

Luka Modric rescued Real though, delivering a sublime raking pass that allowed Rodrygo to race on and volley into the net past a stunned Edouard Mendy.

Chelsea’s fourth stint of extra-time this season duly ensued and after all their efforts and three smart goals, one flick of the head from Benzema brought the Madrid house down.

The 34-year-old turned home Vinicius Junior’s cross with another potent aerial finish to wrestle the Champions League-holders status from Chelsea’s grip.

Benzema now has 38 goals in as many games for Real Madrid in all competitions this season. Such marksmanship invariably yields trophies and Madrid will feel themselves well capable of claiming Champions League title number 14 this year.

Chelsea warmed to their task without delay, with Reece James’ yellow card for a tug on Vinicius the only early concern.

The Blues boasted far more poise and control than in the home leg and duly took the lead when Mount capitalised on a ball falling nicely for him in the area.

Chelsea built steadily in the move for the goal and Mount steered home in style to hand the visitors the perfect start.

Vinicius again threatened on the left but could never cut loose as at Stamford Bridge in a first-half full of frustration for the hosts.

By the time Benzema was booked for an aerial challenge on Thiago Silva, the home supporters’ jeers appeared to have rattled the Madrid men.

Ancelotti’s side seemed jittery and certainly lacking any rhythm or fluency.

Chelsea negotiated pretty much the ideal half from their perspective, taking that 1-0 lead on the night into the interval.

Thomas Tuchel’s side sustained the pressure straight from the restart, with Madrid continuing with their curious ploy of sitting off and allowing Chelsea to dominate the ball.

The hosts’ passivity continued unabated, even after the chance to recalibrate at half-time.

When Rudiger powered home a headed finish from Mount’s corner, the Blues were ahead 2-0 on the night and level in the tie.

Alonso thought he had sent them into dreamland and a 3-0 lead, only for his crisp strike to be chalked off after a VAR review. The Spanish defender was judged to have handled the ball after a ricochet in the area, handing Madrid a major reprieve.

The home side almost took immediate advantage but Benzema struck the bar when he should have scored.

Chelsea kept their cool and set about yet more well-structured attacks and Mateo Kovacic’s fine threaded ball sent Werner through on goal.

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Ancelotti: Real are delighted to depend on Benzema

Real Madrid should not be ashamed to be reliant upon talisman Karim Benzema, according to Los Blancos head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

France international Benzema has helped Madrid to the LaLiga summit, 12 points clear of Barcelona, who have played a game less.

The former Lyon striker also propelled the LaLiga giants into the ascendancy with his hat-trick in a 3-1 win against Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, he became the first player to score a treble against the Blues in European competition as he joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Luiz Adriano and Lionel Messi as the fourth player to manage consecutive hat-tricks in the Champions League following his heroics in the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain.

Only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski (46) has found the net more times in Europe’s top-five leagues in all competitions than Benzema, who has 37 goals to his name in as many appearances.

Ancelotti heaped praise on his star forward as he fielded questions over whether potential transfer target Erling Haaland would be put off Madrid by Benzema’s exploits.

“What a question… I’m sorry, I can’t answer,” he said. 

“But I can say that Benzema is a modern centre-forward, in the past the number nine would get into the area and finish off whatever was going on there.

“Karim is what modern football demands in a striker, shooting, playing, defensive work, not giving away balls… It’s the perfect representation of what a centre forward should be today”.

Benzema and Vinicius Junior have formed a formidable partnership this campaign, with the duo combining for a competition-leading five goals in the Champions League.

Ancelotti referenced the likes of Los Blancos greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as he pointed towards his new pairing as the stars of the show this season.

“The season says that there are two strikers who have stood out a lot, Vinicius and Benzema,” he added.

“In the past we had Cristiano, Bale… To say that we are dependent on Benzema is the truth, there is no need to hide it. I am very happy to be dependent on Benzema”.

Benzema has netted 11 times in the Champions League this campaign, the most by a Frenchman in Europe’s premier club competition and as many as he had scored in the previous two editions combined.

He will look to add to that tally at home to Chelsea on Tuesday as Ancelotti aims to qualify for an eighth Champions League semi-final – the joint-most of any coach in history, along with Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

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Karim Benzema bullied Chelsea to the brink of relinquishing their Champions League crown with a stunning hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge.

The prolific striker moved his competition goal return to 11 in just eight matches after hitting back-to-back trebles as Madrid overwhelmed the Blues in Wednesday’s quarter-final first-leg.

Benzema took his season’s tally to 37 goals in 36 matches for Real, handing his side a major chance of making the semi-finals in their bid to land a 14th Champions League title.

The 34-year-old stalked the beleaguered Andreas Christensen like a heavyweight prize fighter closing off the ring to a frenzied and frazzled foe.

Kai Havertz dragged Chelsea back into the contest from nowhere before half-time, but the luckless Edouard Mendy gifted Benzema his hat-trick goal with an undersold pass.

Chelsea will now need a performance to trump perhaps all others from Thomas Tuchel’s highly-decorated reign to overturn this deficit in Madrid’s intimidating Bernabeu Stadium.

The Blues, who dazzled Europe by toppling Manchester City 1-0 to swipe the Champions League trophy in May last year, will head out for the return leg on Tuesday, where a generational showing for this talented squad could well be required to keep their title defence alive.

Madrid meanwhile will head home in total control of this tie, with former Chelsea manager and figurehead Carlo Ancelotti particularly buoyed.

The urbane Italian coach almost did not make it to his old Stamford Bridge stomping ground due to Covid, but returned a negative test in time to link up with his players on the morning of the match.

April showers left the 60-year-old’s coiffured locks requiring a towelling-off, before he donned a beanie hat to ward off the weather.

Benzema’s three-minute, one-two punch left Chelsea flailing on the canvas.

The France striker must have thought the Blues were out for the count after delivering two thumping headers.

First he nodded home by racing onto Vinicius’ cross, then the Real talisman showed the other side of his aerial prowess, hanging in the air to dispatch Modric’s delivery.

A dazed and confused Chelsea found themselves staggering around the Stamford Bridge pitch. None more so than the hapless Christensen, who wound up continually exposed by Chelsea’s first-half system.

The Denmark defender could not decide whether to tuck in tight on the inside-right, or pull out to the right-back area.

James’ advanced right-sided role left Christensen with too much ground to cover, but the Dane should still have avoided the comprehensive work-over he received for his troubles.

Vinicius and Benzema doubled up on Christensen, with Ancelotti clearly identifying the Denmark centre-back as the weak link in Tuchel’s system on the night.

Benzema should have completed his hat-trick before half-time too, only to drive a low shot wide of the goal.

That let-off seemed to clear Chelsea’s punch-drunk haze and in a flash the Blues were on the scoreboard and back from the dead.

Jorginho’s sumptuous lofted ball bisected the Real defence, allowing Havertz to steal in at the far post and nod home.

Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic replaced Christensen and N’Golo Kante at half-time, with Tuchel well aware the shape had to change.

The Blues went to a flat-back four, but had not even settled when disaster struck.

Mendy underhit a pass to Toni Rudiger when out of his area and Benzema pounced, rolling the ball home to complete his devastating treble.

Proactive boss Tuchel emptied the bench in a bid to claw another foothold, but £98million striker Romelu Lukaku could in no way follow Benzema’s lead.

Where the Real marksman had proved unerring, instead Lukaku could only nod wide from a glorious chance.

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Real Madrid fans started the evening by applauding Kylian Mbappé and ended it by cheering Karim Benzema and celebrating another epic Champions League night the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

Benzema responded to another goal by Mbappé by scoring a hat trick in less than 20 minutes in the second half Wednesday as Madrid came from behind to defeat Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 and advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

It was yet another frustrating result in Europe for PSG, which won the first leg 1-0 and doubled its advantage through Mbappé in the first half but again failed to live up to the massive expectations after adding Lionel Messi to its star-studded team this season.

“It turned out to be a spectacular night for us,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It was a difficult match and it got even more complicated after their first goal. We suffered a lot. But after we scored the atmosphere in the stadium changed and the fans began to push us again and the players began to believe that they could finish the comeback.”

Mbappé opened the scoring in the 39th minute to increase PSG’s aggregate lead after the France striker also netted in stoppage time to secure the first-leg win in Paris.

Mbappé has been widely linked with a move to Madrid after his contract expires at the end of the season and was cheered by part of the Madrid fans when his name was announced in the PSG lineup before the match. His family was also at the Bernabéu.

But when it was all over the ovation was for Madrid and Benzema, who at 34 years, 80 days became the oldest player to score a Champions League hat trick. He surpassed Olivier Giroud, who was 34 years, 63 days when he hit a treble for Chelsea at Sevilla in 2020.

Benzema also reached 309 goals with Madrid to surpass Alfredo Di Stéfano for third place on the club’s all-time scoring list, and 67 in the Champions League to surpass Raúl González’s 66 with the club and become second-best to Cristiano Ronaldo.

“We needed the fans and they were behind us until the end,” Benzema said. “This victory is for them.”

More than 60,000 were on hand for the biggest crowd at the Bernabéu since the coronavirus pandemic started. The stadium, which remains under renovation, remained packed several minutes after the final whistle as players stayed on the field celebrating with the fans.

Benzema’s third Champions League hat trick started in the 61st after a blunder by PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. He then scored again in the 76th and 78th minutes to give the 13-time European champions a 3-2 aggregate win. Madrid reached the last eight for the second straight season after consecutive eliminations in the round of 16.

PSG, seeking its first Champions League title, had advanced past the round of 16 the last two seasons, losing the final to Bayern Munich in 2020 and being eliminated by Manchester City in the semifinals in 2021.

In the other last-16 match on Wednesday, Manchester City advanced past Sporting Lisbon 5-0 on aggregate after a scoreless draw in England.

PSG appeared in control after Mbappé, who had been doubtful to play after picking up a knock in training on Monday, scored in the 39th after collecting a long pass by Neymar and making a run into the area before firing a low shot past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

It was the 27th Champions League goal for the 23-year-old France forward with PSG, leaving him three shy of Edinson Cavani’s club record in the competition. He has scored 14 goals in his last 14 Champions League appearances.

Mbappé had already had a few chances before opening the scoring, including a goal disallowed for offside in the build-up. He also had one goal called back for the same reason in the second half.

Neymar and Lionel Messi also threatened for PSG after Madrid looked in control early.

Vinícius Júnior and Benzema threatened the most for Madrid, and the French striker scored the equalizer off a pass from Vinícius after Donnarumma gave the ball away while being pressured by Benzema inside the area.

“The goalkeeper waited and waited, he lost the ball and it was a goal,” Benzema said. “He should have cleared it, simple as that.”

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino complained that Benzema had fouled Donnarumma.

“It was a clear foul and it wasn’t called,” Pochettino said. “We became nervous after that goal and things got complicated. We didn’t manage it well after that.”

Benzema added the second after a pass from Luka Modric and a couple of minutes later sealed the team’s spot in the quarterfinals with a one-time finish after another run by Vinícius down the left flank.

Madrid was without Ferland Mendy and Casemiro because of yellow-card suspensions, but Toni Kroos started after being doubtful because of muscle injury. Federico Valverde replaced Casemiro, while Nacho Fernández started at left back instead of veteran Marcelo.

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Benzema and Asensio seal Madrid Derby win

Real Madrid moved 13 points clear of rivals Atletico Madrid after a 2-0 El Derbi win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Karim Benzema got them on their way with a fine volley early on, before he was replaced at the interval by Luka Jovic after appearing to suffer a reoccurrence of a recent hamstring injury.

Marco Asensio ensured Atleti’s winless run against Los Blancos stretched to eight games – their longest such run under Diego Simeone – with a second in the 57th minute.

The victory meant Carlo Ancelotti’s men moved eight points clear of second-placed Sevilla, who have a game in hand, while Atleti are well off the pace in fourth.

Los Blancos went ahead in the 16th minute when Benzema superbly volleyed past Jan Oblak from Vinicius Junior’s lofted cross for his 13th league goal of the season.

That was the France international’s third goal in his last four appearances against Atleti in all competitions – just one fewer than in his previous 34 games against them.

Atleti offered little in the way of attacking threat during a tepid first half, yet came close to a leveller 10 minutes before the interval when Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick was pawed away by Thibaut Courtois at full stretch.

Courtois denied half-time substitute Joao Felix and Matheus Cunha early in the second half, before Asensio whipped into Oblak’s bottom-right corner from 15 yards after he was picked out by Vinicius’ pass.

Joao Felix volleyed into Courtois’ face in stoppage time as the defending champions were unable to peg the leaders back.

Courtois’ six saves was evidence that Madrid did not have it all their own way, but there can be few complaints they were deserving winners.

Ancelotti’s side have now avoided defeat in their last six home LaLiga games against their city rivals, keeping a clean sheet in the last four – the first time in their history they have prevented Atleti scoring in four home games in a row.

Benzema has now scored 36 goals in all competitions in 2021, his best scoring tally in a calendar year in his Madrid career.

His withdrawal at the interval is cause for concern, though, and Ancelotti will hope he is not on the sidelines for too long.

A surprise inclusion from the start ahead of Luis Suarez, Cunha did not exactly repay Simeone’s faith. The Brazil international had a single shot on target before he was replaced by Renan Lodi on the hour mark.

Los Blancos host Cadiz next Sunday, while Atleti travel to Sevilla a day earlier.

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Benzema seals fifth straight LaLiga win

Real Madrid moved seven points clear at the summit of LaLiga as Karim Benzema’s solitary goal sealed a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, struck in the 40th minute with his 12th league goal of the campaign – three more than anyone else in LaLiga.

Athletic created enough chances to claim at least a point at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet they were unable to find a way past Thibaut Courtois.

A fifth league win in a row lifted Carlo Ancelotti’s side well clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, although Diego Simeone’s men have a game in hand.

Unai Simon twice denied Benzema from close range inside the opening 15 minutes as Madrid started brightly.

Athletic grew into the game, though, and twice went close before the half-hour mark, Inaki Williams seeing an effort deflected narrowly wide and an unmarked Raul Garcia heading straight at Courtois.

Madrid went ahead five minutes before the interval, Benzema sliding into an empty net from Luka Modric’s mishit shot after Simon had thwarted Marco Asensio.

Toni Kroos whipped wide after a fine team move shortly after the restart, before Lucas Vazquez denied Dani Garcia a near-certain goal at the other end with a superb block.

Unai Nunez inexplicably headed wide from an inswinging free-kick with 20 minutes remaining, while Courtois raced off his line to deny Oihan Sancet as Athletic ultimately fell short of finding the leveller they deserved.

What does it mean? Madrid pushed all the way

Athletic’s tally of 18 shots is evidence that Madrid were far from their best, but Ancelotti’s men did just enough to seal maximum points against their spirited opponents.

The result means Los Blancos are now unbeaten in their last 13 LaLiga games against Athletic – their best such run against them in the top flight.

The superb Benzema has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

He sealed all three points against Sevilla on Sunday with a sublime strike, but Vinicius Junior had no such luck in front of goal here. The Brazil international made a game-high five key passes, but failed to have a single shot as Madrid largely toiled in attack.

Madrid travel to third-placed Real Sociedad on Saturday, while Athletic are next in action on Monday when they visit Getafe.

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France and Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($84,000) Wednesday in a sex-tape case that rocked French soccer.

Benzema was found guilty of being involved in an attempt in 2015 to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

The Versailles court decision is unlikely to affect Benzema’s immediate sporting future. The forward is regarded as one of the favorites to win the Ballon d’Or award on Nov. 29 in Paris following an impressive season with Madrid. French federation president Noel Le Great has already said Benzema would be allowed to keep playing with France even if found guilty.

Benzema’s lawyers said he will appeal.

Benzema, who denied wrongdoing, didn’t attend the trial in Versailles last month and was absent for the verdict. The four other defendants were also found guilty and did not appear at the court Wednesday.

Prosecutors had asked that Benzema be fined 75,000 euros, the maximum allowed on the charge, and be given a suspended 10-month jail term if found guilty.

Benzema was charged with complicity in the blackmail attempt over a sex tape thought to have been stolen from Valbuena’s mobile phone.

After preliminary charges in November 2015, Benzema was dropped from France’s national team by coach Didier Deschamps. That resulted in Benzema missing the 2016 European Championship, and also the 2018 World Cup which was won by France.

Deschamps recalled Benzema ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and has since fielded him regularly.

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Karim Benzema scored twice to steer Real Madrid past Shakhtar Donetsk in a 2-1 victory at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.

The striker opened the scoring and then put Madrid back ahead in the second half after Fernando equalised for the visitors.

Benzema’s opener was a landmark strike for the LaLiga giants as they became the first club to score 1,000 European goals.

The France international limped off before the end of the game but said it was down to fatigue rather than an injury.

“It was a difficult game for us. Shakhtar are a good team, a very good opponent,” Benzema said. “We suffered together and we won in the end. Sometimes you win games like that.

“We weren’t at our best like in the first game, but we won. We play every three days and it’s a bit difficult. It’s a lot of games at a high level. Like today, we didn’t play well but we won. The most important thing is the three points. You can’t always play well.”

Benzema scored after 14 minutes after a Shakhtar defensive mix up saw Vinicius Junior set him up with an easy tap in.

The visitors made it 1-1 just before the break when Fernando finished off a swift move.

Madrid were booed off at half time and withheld pressure early in the second half as Benzema grabbed his second after 61 minutes.

The hosts needed Thibaut Courtois to produce a fine save in stoppage time to come away with the three points.

“We started well, we were aggressive in both halves, we scored the first goal, we needed to be more aggressive and a bit more effective with the ball,” Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti said.

“We tried to have control without doing damage. That’s what I said. The two changes, [Dani] Carvajal was to avoid physical problems, I brought Nacho on to control the right wing, and Karim was a bit tired, I brought on [Luka] Jovic, I didn’t want to change the shape in attack or defence.”

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France won the Nations League final with goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe earning them a 2-1 win over Spain at the San Siro stadium on Sunday.

After a subdued fist half, the game sprung into life in the 64th minute when France full-back Theo Hernandez struck the underside of the bar after a swift break.

Moments later, Spain took the lead when Mikel Oyarzabal latched on to a long pass from Sergio Busquets, held off Dayot Upamecano and fired into the bottom corner.

The French response was swift, however, with Mbappe finding Benzema who cut inside before unleashing a brilliant curling shot into the far corner to make it 1-1.

Mbappe then grabbed the winner, 10 minutes from the end, racing on to a through ball from Hernandez and keeping his cool to slot past Unai Simon.

“We showed our character against a very strong team. We never gave up,” said Benzema. “It shows what great teams do — never panic, be patient and wait for the right time.

“We are going to enjoy this trophy and then go get the World Cup [next year].”

Coach Didier Deschamps said that Benzema’s contribution to the team extended beyond his goals.

“Karim is an essential player, he’s proved it over the last two games,” said Deschamps.

“He’s in line with what his been doing with his club. He’s extremely fit, way more than he was before, and he’s more mature. He’s got this rage to win that he communicates to the other players.”

Luis Enrique’s young Spain side, who had beaten European champions Italy in the semifinals, had played their trademark possession football with patience and precision but in the end could not compensate for the absence of a genuine striker.

“It was a difficult defeat,” said Spain defender Aymeric Laporte. “We have proven to be a great team despite our youth, we have shown better football than them, but what counts is the result.”

Spain protested that Mbappe was offside when he received the ball but the VAR check found a slight touch from defender Eric Garcia had played the France striker onside.

“It’s a shame. I think we did enough not to lose, but in two similar moves we conceded, although the goals were different. The second one, for us on the pitch, looked like offside,” Busquets said. “

But we have no choice but to congratulate the champions and keep going. We have one more small step left to win trophies and that’s our objective.

“Mbappe was in an offside position, the referee said that Eric goes to play the ball, and that means it’s not offside. That doesn’t make sense to us. You have to try to play the ball, Eric tried to cut out the pass like any defender would, he didn’t miscontrol.”

However, Luis Enrique found some solace in his group’s performance despite the defeat.

He said: “I think we competed on the same level as the current world champions, who have a physical potential and quality behind all doubt. We were in the game. It was hard for us at first because they’re new situations for some players.

“When we scored in the second half and it looked like we could win, we conceded. They don’t even let you breathe. We’re happy and satisfied.”

France had keeper Hugo Lloris to thank for two late saves as Deschamps’s side held on for the victory against intense Spanish pressure.

Lloris got down well to keep out a low shot from Oyarzabal in the 89th minute and then in stoppage time he reacted superbly to parry a strike from substitute Yeremi Pino.

Nations League, in just its second edition, remains clearly UEFA’s secondary tournament for national sides, as the Italian fans singing of their team’s Euro 2020 triumph reminded, but that didn’t dampen France’s celebrations.

“We did not get off to a good start we were dominated and waited until the first goal to react,” said Pogba, who was crucial to France’s response.

“We know we have to do better. But if it’s the way we have to win, so be it. Winning a trophy is always good. We’re always hungry for those,” he added.

Earlier on Sunday, Italy had claimed third-place in the tournament by beating Belgium 2-1 in Turin.