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                      Messi endorses 'spectacular' Benzema for Ballon d'Or

                      CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-01 09:38
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                      Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates with his medal as he walks past the trophy after winning the Champions League against Liverpool, Stade de France, Saint-Denis near Paris, France, May 28, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

                      According to Lionel Messi, there is "no doubt" that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema deserves to win his first Ballon d'Or 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 last 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, it's 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 Raul Gonzalez 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 its 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 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."

                      The 34-year-old Messi has been training with Argentina in Bilbao, Spain, for a friendly match against Italy in London on Wednesday.

                      Messi could find himself going up against Benzema again at the World Cup in Qatar this year-both Argentina and France are among the main contenders-but insisted that defending champion France should be considered the favorite.

                      "France is an impressive team, four years ago we said they could be candidates and they ended as winners. I believe the hit they took at the Euros (being eliminated by Switzerland) made them stronger," Messi said.

                      "Argentina can fight anyone and will make it hard for any rival. That doesn't mean we are the favorites to be world champions or any of that. It means we will fight against anyone."

                      Messi was speaking a couple of days ahead of Wednesday's friendly between two continental champions at Wembley Stadium.

                      The match between the Copa America holder and the European champion, where many Argentines trace their roots, is known as the "Finalissima" (Grand Final).

                      But while Argentina stormed to qualification for the Qatar World Cup later this year with several games to spare, Italy astonishingly missed out after losing to minnow North Macedonia in a playoff.

                      "What happened with Italy is crazy, having won the Euros and not being at the World Cup, given Italy's history at the World Cup," he said.

                      "If Italy had been at the World Cup they would have been one of the favorites. They were unlucky. No one would have wanted to play them."

                      Having spent his entire career at Barcelona, the 34-year-old moved to PSG a year ago where he has struggled to reproduce his best form.

                      He admitted it had been "a difficult change" and that the first day he took his children to school in Paris he left "crying".

                      Having caught COVID-19 at the end of 2021, Messi is convinced the virus has left "scars" on his lungs while he also admitted the Champions League capitulation against Madrid was "a tough blow".

                       

                       

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