- Associated Press - Friday, May 22, 2015

PARIS (AP) - Rennes forward Paul-Georges Ntep was called up for the first time by France on Friday for upcoming friendlies against Belgium and Albania.

The 22-year-old player, whose speed and impact have helped him score nine league goals this season and set up a further six, benefited from Karim Benzema’s withdrawal because of injuries.

“He has a big margin of progression and he is a bit different from many forwards as he rather plays on the wing,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for him to come into the France squad and for me to see him on the training pitch and undoubtedly in games. The door is always open.”

France, which has already qualified for the 2016 European Championship as the host country, takes on Belgium on June 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Albania six days later.

The Cameroon-born Ntep is among a 24-man list including five other offensive players, with Nabil Fekir, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Mathieu Valbuena and Alexandre Lacazette also making the cut. Lacazette was voted the French league’s best player last weekend after scoring a league-leading 27 goals for Lyon.

Benzema is sidelined by injuries on his knee and thigh.

Deschamps also called up Juventus players Patrice Evra and Paul Pogba, despite their team’s involvement in the Champions League final against Barcelona on June 6.

“In my opinion the France team is beyond anything else, so it was an easy decision to make,” Deschamps said. “They’ll be very happy to join us for the second part of the training camp.”

Besides Benzema’s injury, Deschamps also needed to cope with the combined absences of Kurt Zouma and Mathieu Debuchy in defense and selected Bacary Sagna, who has hardly played with Manchester City recently.

Also missing from the squad was Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who is out with a knee injury


France squad:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Stephane Ruffier (Saint-Etienne)

Defenders: Patrice Evra (Juventus), Christophe Jallet (Lyon), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Benoit Tremoulinas (Seville FC), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain), Maxime Gonalons (Lyon), Geoffrey Kondogbia (Monaco), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle)

Forwards: Nabil Fekir (Lyon), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezman (Atletico Madrid), Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon), Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes), Mathieu Valbuena (Dynamo Moscow)

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