Lawyers for Karim Benzema urged a top French appeals court on Monday to throw out a years-long case over an alleged attempt to blackmail Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape, which has kept the Real Madrid star from playing for France’s national side.
The French striker argues that a police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair, which began in June 2015.
That was when Valbuena received a call from a blackmailer who threatened to release an intimate video and contacted the police.
Investigators later accused Benzema of acting as an intermediary between the presumed blackmailers and Valbuena, which Benzema has denied.
While resorting to some ruses can be common in police work, “the sin is in the zeal shown by this officer”, Benzema’s lawyer Fabrice Spinosi told the Court of Cassation in Paris.
Real Madrid eased the pressure on Zinedine Zidane and delivered a resounding response to their loss to Paris Saint-Germain by winning 1-0 away at high-flying Sevilla in La Liga on Sunday.
Karim Benzema headed in the decisive goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to secure an impressive victory against a Sevilla side that were unbeaten and hoping to return to the top of the table.
Instead, it is Madrid that go level on points with Athletic Bilbao in first place after a controlled and determined performance that was by some distance their best since Zidane’s return as coach in March.
“We have had a quite difficult time but the players reacted,” Zidane said.
His position had come under scrutiny after Madrid’s woeful 3-0 defeat by PSG in the Champions League on Wednesday, a result that continued their bumpy start to the season, following a turbulent summer in the transfer market.
But this win should do wonders for belief and leaves Barcelona as Spain’s chief club in crisis, with Ernesto Valverde under pressure after they were beaten 2-0 by Granada on Saturday. Madrid are now four points clear of the Catalans after five games played.
“I am very happy as people have been questioning us a lot,” said Zidane. “But we don’t think much about that. We played 90 minutes at a very high level in a difficult stadium. We must congratulate all the players.”
Not for the first time this season, Zidane singled out Gareth Bale for praise. “Today hard work was the key,” he said. “The effort made by James, Gareth, all of them.”
Sevilla’s newly-installed coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked by Madrid 11 months ago, 139 days after taking the job that cost him the chance to lead Spain at the World Cup.
He insisted on Saturday there was no desire for revenge but it is hard to imagine victory would not have brought a little extra satisfaction.
Zidane was asked about his own future as well, several times, and while he maintained he still feels the full backing of the club, there was a warning too. If support dwindles, he said, “then it would probably be best to leave”.
But for all the problems — a dreadful pre-season, signings and sales missed, poor performances against Real Valladolid, Villarreal, Levante and PSG — Madrid now sit second, buoyed by a display that may yet prove a springboard for games to come.
A frantic opening half an hour made for an engrossing contest but there were few chances, as Lopetegui earned himself a booking for beckoning Gareth Bale to be shown a yellow card.
Real Madrid probably just shaded the first period and had its two best chances as Eden Hazard was slipped in by Benzema, only to be denied by Tomas Vaclik on the angle, before Dani Carvajal was sent clear by James Rodriguez but this time Vaclik’s right foot blocked the defender’s finish.
There was little in it, as Bale’s excellent cross almost found James at the back post shortly after half-time while Luuk de Jong went close with a header, prompting Carvajal to hack the ball clear at the far post.
Still, Madrid looked more likely and so it proved as Raphael Varane won back possession high up, allowing Bale to thread Carvajal in behind. He dug out a cross, which Benzema met brilliantly, rising high to head home his fifth goal of the season.
Sevilla might have equalised but De Jong headed wide under pressure from Carvajal and then Javier Hernandez did score, in the 87th minute, poking in at the near post, only for the assistant to raise his flag.
Bale could have made it two late on but hit the side-netting from an acute angle. One was enough.
Zinedine Zidane sprung a surprise by dropping Casemiro for Real Madrid’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Casemiro started on the bench for the first time in this season’s knock-out stage, with Mateo Kovacic coming into a three-man midfield alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
There was no place again for Gareth Bale at the Santiago Bernabeu as Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema supported Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Lucaz Vazquez was set to start at right-back in place of the injured Dani Carvajal.
Bayern were missing a number of key players, including Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng, Arjen Robben, Arturo Vidal and Manuel Neuer.
Corentin Tolisso replaced Martinez in midfield while Niklas Suele was brought into central defence. James Rodriguez, on loan from Real, started against his parent club.
Starting line-ups for the Champions League semi-final, second leg between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday (kick-off 1845 GMT; Real Madrid lead 2-1 from first leg):
Bayern Munich (4-4-1-1)
Sven Ulreich; Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels, Niklas Suele, David Alaba; Thomas Mueller (capt), Thiago Alcantara, Corentin Tolisso, Franck Ribery; James Rodriguez, Robert Lewandowski
Coach: Jupp Heynckes (GER)
Real Madrid (4-3-3)
Keylor Navas; Lucas Vazquez, Sergio Ramos (capt), Raphael Varane, Marcelo; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos; Marco Asensio, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema