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Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema receives the Ballon d'Or award from French former forward football player Zinedine Zidane. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: France striker Karim Benzema won the Ballon d'Or at a ceremony in Paris on Monday, the reward coming after his stunning performances helped Real Madrid win the Champions League and La Liga last season.

Benzema, who is the first French winner of the most prestigious individual prize in football since Zinedine Zidane in 1998, scored 44 goals in 46 games for his club including 15 in the Champions League.

Benzema, who also won the UEFA Nations League with France last season, pushed Bayern Munich and Senegal star Sadio Mane into second place.

Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City and Belgium was third, with Barcelona and Poland star Robert Lewandowski coming fourth.

Winning the award, which is given out by France Football magazine, caps a remarkable career revival for Benzema, who was frozen out of the France team for five and a half years because of his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sextape involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

He was later handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($73,848) for his involvement in the affair.

However, he returned to the national team for last year's European Championship and will now go to the World Cup in Qatar with France next month.

He will turn 35 on December 19, the day after the World Cup final. Benzema is the oldest winner of the Ballon d'Or since the very first winner, Stanley Matthews in 1956.

The former Lyon striker is also the fifth Frenchman to win the prize, with Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin all getting their hands on the trophy before Zidane's victory in 1998.

Selfless Benzema

Paris: Karim Benzema's focus on being a team player was rewarded when the Real Madrid and France forward was presented with the Ballon d'Or award on Monday after a remarkable season that saw him win the Champions League and become indispensable for Les Bleus.

The 34-year-old, who made his comeback with the national team after a gap of almost six years over a blackmail scandal, was pivotal in Real's Champions League and La Liga double.

His partnership with Kylian Mbappe for his country, although not perfect, has made the world champions' forward line one of the most formidable in the game.

Benzema, who has a killer instinct in front of goal, revels in making team mates shine and Monday's trophy for the best player in the world was just reward for the selfless forward.

"It's a collective victory. It's an individual trophy but without your team mates you can't score. Sometimes you might get a screamer but, for me, football is a collective sport and I will always be a team player," Benzema told Reuters.

Benzema, who started his professional career at Olympique Lyonnais after being developed in their youth academy, joined Real in 2009 after four years with Lyon's first team.

"I never surrendered. I was lucky to join Real, the best club in the world, and even if it was hard at the beginning, I stayed focused," he said.

"I've worked on my mental strength, I've been courageous and determined." Benzema was handed the Ballon d'Or trophy at Paris's Theatre du Chatelet by the great Zinedine Zidane, the last French player to win the award back in 1998.

"Zizou is a big brother. He was my coach (at Real from 2016-18 and 2019-21), it means a lot to me. He's the best French player in history so it makes it even more special," Benzema said.

The striker will now be hoping to win his first piece of major silverware with France at the World Cup in Qatar, having missed out on the 2018 tournament, which they won in Russia.

"My goal is to continue to enjoy playing football, to score and make my team mates score. The World Cup is the next challenge," he said ahead of the finals starting on Nov. 20.

Although Benzema has had a complicated history with France and coach Didier Deschamps, he insisted his Ballon d'Or triumph did not prove anything.

"Revenge doesn't help you grow," he said. "I don't want to dwell on my failures. They just give me more mental strength. I have no regrets. What happened, happened, but what matters is what is happening today."