OFTEN described by his contemporaries as quiet, self-contained and downright shy, Karim Benzema is hardly his father's son.

Shortly after his pivotal display in France's 3-0 victory over Honduras, when he scored twice and struck a post with another shot before the ball was carried over the line by goalkeeper Noel Valladares, the Real Madrid forward's dad, Hafid, not exactly a man for understatement, took to the airwaves to offer his view on where his son fits into the French plan for a successful campaign in Brazil.

"Napoleon had a whole army behind him and Karim is the same," he proclaimed. "You can take responsibility when you are helped. In the match against Honduras, they played for him as he played for them and that's what made the France team arrive at that stage."

Loading article content

The younger Benzema may not quite be toying with visions of empire just yet, but there are signs he is warming to the role of unofficial leader within a fresh and exciting French camp robbed, in the 11th hour, of the influential Franck Ribery through a back injury.

The 26-year-old has been peripheral at major tournaments thus far in his international career. However, his goals against Honduras, his first in three major finals, reinforced the growing belief in his homeland that this is a changing man.

Antoine Griezmann, the Real Sociedad winger and Ribery's impressive replacement, has spoken warmly of how Benzema has taken him under his wing. Since ending the blackest spell of his international career by scoring as a substitute in a 6-0 friendly win over Australia in October and ending a goal drought which stretched to 15 games, 16 months and 1222 minutes, the former Lyon striker also appears to have connected with the public like never before.

He became a father for the first time in February, a matter of days after the emotional release of being cleared alongside Ribery of soliciting an under-age prostitute in 2009, and ended an occasionally difficult club season with 26 goals and a place in history as one of the players who secured Real Madrid's 10th European Cup.

With eight goals in his last seven international matches too, Benzema is in a good place ahead of tonight's Group E encounter with Switzerland in Salvador. He understands the influence he can have on the more inexperienced members of Didier Deschamps' squad and is doing what he can to foster the spirit of calmness and togetherness that the notoriously flaky French will need to make it into the latter stages of this competition.

"I think I'm someone who speaks a lot on the field and a little less outside," said the forward. "I do talk a lot with the players, though. There are a number of young people in this team and, if I can give them a little something, I will do it.

"I don't know if there has been a change of image [for me]. I left France at the age of 21 and I am now 26, so there has been some time that has passed, but I feel I am still the same. I am happy for France at the moment. It is going well, we are winning games and we are a real family together."

Benzema has also been influenced by one of his national team's former great leaders, Zinedine Zidane, and will lean heavily upon him in the days and weeks ahead. The pair have been working together at Real, where Zidane is the assistant manager. "I can't take him to Brazil with me, but we can talk on the phone," Benzema added. And they certainly have. Both men are Frenchmen of Algerian descent. It would be lazy to suggest that is purely what has brought them so closely together at Real, but it is surely a factor. It was Zidane who called Benzema before the Honduras game and left a message afterwards to offer his congratulations. "I know that I can count on Zidane. He is proud of me," said Benzema.

While the forward was going through a run of seven league games without a goal in October and supporters were demanding that Alvaro Morata be given the central striking role, Zidane was there to place an arm around his shoulders.

Carlo Ancelotti, Real's head coach, certainly believes he has benefited from the relationship that exists between the compatriots and will be hoping they remain beside him at the amid speculation about both their futures. "I think Zidane's done fantastic work, especially with Karim," said Ancelotti. "He can still improve, especially in showing more personality and character. He is a very quiet and shy boy."

Zidane agrees and hopes next season will see Benzema continue to blossom into a more rounded, expressive force. "As with the French national team, he could inherit the captain's armband at his club," said the 41-year-old, a World Cup winner with France in 1998. However, I want Karim to speak to the group rather than have others do it for him. I would like it if he took the initiative."

Communication has not always been Benzema's strong point, but he has also been involved in some real heart-to-hearts with Deschamps. His national coach believes the 26-year-old has emerged stronger and puts his new-found bond with the supporters down to his goal and his celebrations with his team-mates in that cathartic match with the Australians in Paris.

"That changed a lot of things," said Deschamps. "The crowd made fun of him a little, but he reacted very well. People saw he wasn't the same person. He no longer had that closed expression on his face.

"I needed to tell him certain things. However, he dug deep inside himself to find that inner strength, that rage, which makes him so important. It is to his credit."