October 6, 2016 5:29:54 pm
It’s been a long wait for Kevin Gameiro. But in the absence of the injured Olivier Giroud and with Karim Benzema still out of the France squad, the Atletico Madrid forward will finally get the opportunity to establish himself for good in Didier Deschamps’ team.
Gameiro, who joined Atletico in the offseason for a reported 30 million euros ($34 million), is expected to start alongside Madrid teammate Antoine Griezmann when France takes on Bulgaria on Friday at the Stade de France in a World Cup qualifier.
The European Championship runners-up, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Belarus in their Group A opener, will then travel to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later.
Griezmann, the top scorer at Euro 2016, is Deschamps’ first choice, with Gameiro, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Anthony Martial and Nabil Fekir in competition to replace Giroud.
The Arsenal striker, who has not started a game this season with his club, has been hindered by a toe injury while Benzema – who has not appeared for France since being charged with blackmail over a sex-tape scandal – still has no place in the plans of Deschamps, at least on a short-term basis.
The double absence of Benzema and Giroud is likely to benefit the 29-year-old Gameiro, who has strong credentials for his inclusion. His main asset is the promising relationship he has started to build with Griezmann at Atletico. Despite Fernando Torres’ competition that has been limiting his playing time, Gameiro has scored three goals and delivered as many assists in nine appearances.
“Individually, both of them are quality players and the fact that they are playing together with their club is a good thing,” Deschamps said. “They can improve their chemistry.”
Gameiro started his international career six years ago and was regularly called by previous France coach Laurent Blanc, until a friendly game against the United States in November 2011. The former Sevilla player then had to wait nearly five years before wearing the France jersey again.
Gameiro, who scored the equalizer in the Europa League final as Sevilla came from behind to beat Liverpool 3-1, sometimes felt forgotten after he left Paris Saint-Germain to move abroad. He was selected on a list of reserve players for the European Championship but did not make the final cut, and finally received a proper call-up in September, making his ninth international appearance against Belarus after coming in as a substitute.
“It was a very long wait. These things happen during a career, but I never gave up,” Gameiro said. “Sevilla is a big club in Spain, but in France they don’t get much exposure. Signing at Atletico Madrid put me one step above.”
Against a Bulgarian team that conceded three goals in its 4-3 opening win over Luxembourg, Deschamps will field an offensive-minded side, with Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet also expected to start.
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