TURIN: France’s forward Karim Benzema reacts after a training session at the Olympic stadium in Turin, on Friday two days prior to the UEFA Nations League final football match between Spain and France. – AFP

MADRID: Real Madrid’s on-form striker Karim Benzema has been dreaming of winning the Ballon d’Or since he was a little boy, he told Spanish daily AS in an interview published yesterday. Benzema was selected on the long list of 30 for the 2021 Ballon d’Or on Friday a day after scoring as France beat Belgium 3-2 and make the Nations League final.

“I’ve been dreaming of winning it since I was a kid, we all do, all professional players,” said Benzema. “So I’ve been doing everything possible and will continue to do so, because I hope to win it and fulfil my childhood dream.” With nine goals in eight games for Madrid this season Benzema has flowered since Cristiano Ronaldo moved on two years ago. “What is important is that people enjoy my football and that I feel happy and proud. There are strikers these days playing very well into their 30s and scoring many goals,” said Benzema, who will be 34 in December.

“Modern football allows for that,” he said. “It’s always a pleasure to be named on this list of the top 30 players, and I’ll keep it in a corner of my mind as an objective in the big matches.” France tackle Spain tonight in the Nations League final. “I’m sure it’ll be a huge final. Spain are a young team, but a very talented one. I just hope above all that it’s a great game,” he said.

Six-time winner Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time victor, were among the 30 names revealed for the Ballon d’Or award. The serial favorites face competition that includes Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante who are also considered as leading runners in the list unveiled by France Football magazine. The prestigious award was not handed out in 2020 due to the pandemic. There are also 20 women in the running for their own prize to be announced in Paris on November 29.

French champions PSG can boast Messi, a winner in the Copa America this summer, and teammates Mbappe and Neymar who last season took the ambitious club to the Champions League last-four. Italian midfielder Jorginho gets the nod after helping Chelsea to the Champions League title as well as playing a major role as Italy won the delayed Euro 2000. Chelsea teammate Kante, man of the match in the Champions League semi-final and final, is also on the list. Ronaldo, who was third in the 2019 Ballon d’Or vote behind Messi and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, sees former Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema also nominated.

Also in the running are Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer in Europe with 41 goals, as well as Dortmund’s Erling Braut Haaland, the Champions League’s best scorer with 10 goals. England, the Euro 2020 finalists, are represented by Harry Kane, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling. Among the women, 2019 winner Megan Rapinoe, whose United States team were knocked out of the Olympics in the quarter-finals, was missing from the nominations. Christine Sinclair, of Olympic gold medal winning Canada, is in the running. Champions League winners Barcelona are represented by Alexia Putellas, already voted UEFA’s best player, and Jennifer Hermoso, joint top-scorer in the Champions League. – AFP