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 By Mark Rodden

Karim Benzema decision protects France squad harmony - FFF president

French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet has said it was difficult to rule Karim Benzema out of Euro 2016, but that the current harmony evident in the squad could not be risked.

Following a final discussion between Le Graet and France manager Didier Deschamps on Wednesday, the FFF announced that the Euro 2016 hosts would do without Benzema for this summer's tournament.

Real Madrid striker Benzema, 28, has been suspended from the national team since December after he was charged with conspiracy to blackmail as part of an investigation into an attempt to extort money from France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

Le Graet, 74, said he and Deschamps had agreed the decision in principle two or three days before their final talk and that Benzema had been "very, very, very sad" when informed by the latter.

Karim Benzema of France is replaced by head coach Didier Deschamps after getting injured during the international friendly match between France and Armenia at Allianz Riviera stadium on October 8, 2015 in Nice, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Karim Benzema has been suspended from the national team over his role in the Valbuena incident.

"It was a difficult decision, as you can imagine," Le Graet told L'Equipe on Thursday. "I have said and I'll say it again that I have affection for this guy.

"But the general interest was to protect the interests of the French team -- the collective.

"During the Euros, we would have found ourselves in the following situation: Benzema succeeds or Benzema does not succeed.

"Yet it's a collective that will succeed or will not succeed.

"The time had come to concentrate our attention -- that of the manager and the media -- on the other players. Because it will be they who play, because they're exemplary, because they deserve it."

He said a decisive factor had been how good the atmosphere was in the French squad during recent gatherings.

"We felt a great harmony," Le Graet said. "On the pitch the players behaved so well that we felt that we shouldn't take the risk of compromising this momentum."

Benzema, who denies wrongdoing, is accused of accepting a request from a childhood friend to act as an intermediary between the blackmailers and Lyon winger Valbuena.

Le Graet said he hoped that Benzema will be cleared, although he once again admonished him for getting caught up in the case. But Le Graet also feels the media coverage of the incident has been "too strong."

A majority of the French public did not want to see Benzema recalled to the French team.

However, Le Graet said that Benzema had divided public opinion even when he was playing, despite scoring 27 goals in 81 appearances for France.

"One day I'll show you the truckload of racist letters that I received (about Benzema) in the past few weeks," Le Graet said. "Fortunately I don't read them all."

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