BUENOS AIRES (AP) — 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.”
The 34-year-old Messi is training with Argentina in Bilbao for the “Finalissima” — a friendly between the Copa America winners and European champion Italy 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.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
The Associated Press