November 12, 2015

PARIS (AP) Kickoff can't come soon enough for those involved in the friendly between France and Germany in Paris on Friday.

For 90 minutes, at least, the teams will take center stage, rather than the embarrassing scandals which have engulfed them.

While France striker Karim Benzema fights to clear his name in a sex tape controversy, German officials are caught up in corruption allegations surrounding the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

This is France's biggest test since losing 1-0 to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals last year. But it comes at an awkward time for France coach Didier Deschamps, who has more than tactics to worry about.

French investigators are trying to find out if Benzema had a role in an extortion attempt targeting his national teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

Sports daily L'Equipe has splashed the entire transcript of a phone-tap conversation between Benzema and a friend which was recorded as part of the investigation, and which appears to give credence to the claim that Benzema was active in the scam.

The case could drag on for months, and may cost Benzema his place in the France team - and even a spell in prison if found guilty - if Deschamps sticks to his word.

When taking charge after the 2012 European Championship, Deschamps emphatically underlined how the behavior of his players was fundamental to rebuilding the national team's poor image following the 2010 World Cup, where players boycotted training after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for an expletive-laced rant at coach Raymond Domenech.

Three players were suspended after that tournament: Anelka, captain Patrice Evra, and Franck Ribery. Then, following Euro 2012, midfielder Samir Nasri was given a three-game ban for insulting a journalist, while wingers Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez were reprimanded for poor behavior.

But Benzema's case could overshadow all of them, and Deschamps - who had no qualms leaving Nasri out of his World Cup squad - may have no choice but to axe his most gifted player even if he clears his name.

Otherwise, France's preparations for the Euro 2016 it will host will be dominated by scandal, and tension within the team could spill over, particularly given the hard-working Valbuena's popularity.

Meanwhile, there are tensions within German football, albeit not directly concerning Joachim Loew's national team.

German federation president Wolfgang Niersbach resigned on Monday over a suspect payment to FIFA.

The payment in connection with Germany's 2006 World Cup nine years ago has led to a tax evasion probe against Niersbach, who denies wrongdoing, and two other former top-ranking federation officials.

Furthermore, Germany great Franz Beckenbauer is under scrutiny for having signed a contract promising a now disgraced FIFA official ''various services'' shortly before Germany won the hosting rights. As the 2006 bid's leading figure and later the president of the organizing committee, Beckenbauer is under growing pressure to speak out on the corruption allegations.

Meanwhile, back to the football.

In Benzema's absence, Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud has a chance to push his claim for the No. 9 jersey, while Loew has recalled veteran striker Mario Gomez and could hand a first cap to Schalke teenager Leroy Sane.

France's defense has some homework, considering the form of Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller, who has 21 goals in 22 games for club and country this season.

Facing Mueller will be a good test for France center-half Raphael Varane, quietly emerging as one of most accomplished defenders in European football. According to statisticians Opta, he tops the charts for all European national teams for successful passes (92 percent) and tackles made (93 percent).

It was Varane who failed to mark Germany defender Mats Hummels when he scored the winner in last year's quarterfinal.

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