- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

PARIS (AP) - Even though he is enjoying the best spell of his international career, Olivier Giroud has to keep proving himself for France.

Giroud has never been a favorite among fans after replacing the more technically skilled and creative Karim Benzema. His international record of 27 goals in 63 games stands up to examination, however.

He has scored six times in the past four internationals - including a recent hat trick against Paraguay and sensational strike against Sweden - and 17 in his last 21.

But as he prepares to face England in a friendly at Stade de France on Tuesday, the 30-year-old Giroud still has many doubters.

“To be honest with you, it’s a bit tedious. It’s been the story of my career. People have always questioned me over the years,” the Arsenal striker said. “It does get to you after a while, especially because you’re doing the job on the field. But this is what also helps me to stay alert and focused on what I have to do.”

He scored his best goal yet for France against Sweden in Friday’s 2-1 loss, collecting the ball just inside the left of the penalty area, flicking it up and crisply volleying it into the opposite corner with the outside of his boot in one smooth motion.

“I’m not really asking myself any questions about how popular I am,” Giroud said. “The pseudo-debates don’t really capture all of my attention, to be honest.”

Just before last year’s European Championship, Giroud was visibly upset after being jeered by his own fans during a friendly win over Cameroon - even though he scored.

Many fans wanted Benzema playing at Euro 2016, not Giroud.

Benzema is facing charges relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema is suspected of pressuring Valbuena to deal with blackmailers. He has not played for France since October 2015.

Even though French soccer federation president Noel Le Graet had said Benzema was available for selection, he was left out of Euro 2016 with Giroud forming a good strike partnership with Antoine Griezmann.

If Giroud scores against England, he will overtake Benzema on France’s list of top scorers and move into seventh place alongside Youri Djorkaeff. France’s record holder is Thierry Henry with 51.

“Obviously a forward is judged on what he brings to the side, how he is involved in the game. But a striker’s also there to finish,” Giroud said. “I have to put it away and I’m doing that. I have a good ratio and I hope to keep climbing up the hierarchy.”

Benzema was first-choice ahead of Giroud up until the scandal. He carried the French attack for years, especially the dire period following the 2010 World Cup debacle, where Les Bleus went on strike and were eliminated in the first round. He has twice given hard-hitting interviews expressing his discontent at what he considers unfair treatment from France coach Didier Deschamps, who was once his biggest fan.

Benzema’s 27 goals came in 81 games - a considerably lower ratio - although he is also more of a provider than Giroud.

As a central striker, Giroud sets up goals more often with Arsenal than with France, notably because the Premier League’s physical style means that teammates play closer to him than they do with France.

For several years, Giroud played second fiddle to Benzema. The Real Madrid striker was once a key player for Deschamps, who relentlessly defended him when he went 1,200 minutes without scoring for Les Bleus.

Now Benzema is France’s forgotten man, and Giroud is firmly in his place - even if some fans don’t like it.

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