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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Karim Benzema and the teams that employ him appear unfazed by his guilty verdict for having played a part in the sex tape blackmail plot against a former France teammate.

Hours after the conviction by a Versailles court on Wednesday, Benzema helped Real Madrid clinch a spot in the Champions League knockout phase for a 25th consecutive season by scoring in a 3-0 win at Sheriff in Moldavia.

Benzema should be back in action again on Sunday, when Madrid hosts Sevilla in a clash of two of the hottest teams in the Spanish league.

Benzema, who denied any wrongdoing, was found guilty of being involved in an attempt to blackmail Mathieu Valbuena in 2015 over a sex tape thought to have been stolen from Valbuena’s mobile phone. But Benzema’s one-year sentence was suspended, meaning he won’t do prison time.

His reputation has undoubtedly been tarnished by the guilty verdict, but his playing career for club and country appears to be unaffected — for the time being.

Benzema did not speak following Madrid’s win in Tiraspol, and coach Carlo Ancelotti said even he had not brought up the case with his striker.

“We haven’t spoken, but he’s relaxed,” Ancelotti said. “It’s something that was spoken about some time ago. The player is totally focused on his job. He seems calm and he played really well today.”

At age 33, Benzema is essential to Madrid.

Once criticized in the Spanish capital for not making the most of his talent, he has emerged from Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow to become one of Europe’s most reliable scorers. His goal against Sheriff was his 15th for Madrid this season, including a Spanish league-leading 12. That comes after he found the net 30 times last season.

France coach Didier Deschamps took notice in May when he recalled Benzema in time for the European Championship after having ostracized him for nearly six years because of the sex tape case. In explaining the recall, Deschamps said, “I don’t have the capacity and no one does, not even Karim, of going back and changing the past. The most important thing is today and the future.”

The head of the French Football Federation said after the verdict that Benzema will remain eligible for the national team.

“As far as the federation is concerned, there is no change,” federation president Noel Le Graet told L’Équipe. “This sanction does not change anything for me. He can be selected. He has the right to work. You can make a mistake, get a suspended sentence and go back to work.”

Benzema has not disappointed since returning to France’s team. He scored four goals in four matches at the Euros. He helped France win the Nations League last month, scoring in both the semifinal against Belgium and the final against Spain, and seal its place in next year’s World Cup.

Benzema will be among the favorites to win the Ballon d’Or on Nov. 29 in Paris. The night before the gala, Benzema will lead Madrid against Sevilla.

Madrid leads the league, with Sevilla only two points back in third place.

Sevilla kept alive its chances of joining Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 when it beat Wolfsburg 2-0 on Tuesday.

Sevilla has boosted its attack this season. Newcomers Rafa Mir and Erik Lamela have combined for nine goals to lead the deep squad coached by former Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui.

Madrid defender David Alaba is doubtful for the match after being substituted against Sheriff following his opening goal because of a knee problem.

Second-placed Real Sociedad will be hoping for Madrid to stumble as it visits Espanyol on Sunday trailing Madrid by just one point.


Like Sevilla, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Villarreal are also in danger of not advancing past the Champions League group stage with only one game remaining.

Atlético is facing a possible early exit after losing at home to AC Milan 1-0. Diego Simeone’s team will look to rebound at Cádiz on Sunday. The defending league champions are in fourth place, four points back.

Xavi Hernández will coach his third game for Barcelona when it visits Villarreal on Sunday. His debut was a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend followed by a 0-0 draw with Benfica at Camp Nou midweek.


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Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report from Brussels.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Man Utd verdict: Jadon Sancho was the perfect fit for Carrick’s system after nothing went right for him under Solskjaer

JADON SANCHO looked the perfect fit for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s counter-attacking Manchester United when they finally landed him for £73million in the summer.

So it is ironic that it is only since the Norwegian was sacked that the jet-heeled winger has started to look the part in a Red Devils shirt.

5Jadon Sancho has found the back of the net in his last two Manchester United outingsCredit: Getty 5Sancho capitalised on a horrendous touch from Jorginho just four minutes into the second halfCredit: Getty 5The England international made no mistake when presented with the chance to break the deadlockCredit: Getty

Nothing seemed to go right for the England man during Solskjaer’s reign.

Much of that was down to the unexpected arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose accommodation seems to have hindered the progress of a few of United’s jet-heeled forwards.

But Sancho made the most of a change in fortunes for himself here.

Fresh off netting his first goal for the club against Villarreal in the week, he gleefully pounced on a horror touch from Jorginho when trying to bring down a high ball.

The Italian’s control let him down badly and Sancho raced onto the loose ball, sped towards the box before firing past the helpless Edouard Mendy.

It was a goal you do not often see at Premier League level but which underlined the benefits of United’s new-found high-press approach as well as Sancho’s pace, dribbling ability and composure.

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While it suggested Sancho could well be a key figure in the new - albeit interim - reign of incoming Ralf Rangnick.

He was substituted just after the hour for Ronaldo, but the fact that he started ahead of the Portuguese legend was a good sign for him.

5Sancho celebrates sealing United's midweek victory overCredit: Splash 5Sancho appears to be the perfect fit in Michael Carrick's systemCredit: Rex

Solskjaer’s handling of Sancho was bizarre given he waited a whole year to sign him for huge money.

It is clear there is far more for the young England star to give.

Bringing it out of him has to be one of the priorities for Rangnick once he takes the reins at Old Trafford.


Man Utd fans about to see the real Jadon Sancho after scoring first goal, says Carrick

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