France’s hopes of successfully defending the World Cup were dealt a blow on Saturday night when Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament in Qatar with a left thigh injury . The 34-year-old Real Madrid striker had been struggling with the injury for some time and had played less than half an hour of football in his club’s last six games before the World Cup. On Saturday, he took part in a full training session for the first time since the World Cup holders met last week ahead of the tournament.
He was forced to withdraw from the session at Qatari champions Al Sadd’s home stadium with the injury and was taken for tests.
The French Football Federation (FFF) later said in a statement that the injury “will require a three-week recovery period”, ruling out any prospect of him being fully fit for the tournament which ends on December 18.
“I am extremely sad for Karim, for whom this World Cup was a major objective,” said French coach Didier Deschamps, quoted in the FFF press release.
“Despite this new blow for the French team, I have complete confidence in my group. We will do everything to meet the enormous challenge that awaits us.”
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Olivier Giroud, 36, is set to take advantage of Benzema’s absence by entering the French attack alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
However, under FIFA rules, Deschamps can still call up a replacement for an injured player until Monday, the day before his first match.
France begin their defense of the trophy on Tuesday when they face Australia at Al Wakrah.
They will also face Denmark and Tunisia in Group D as they aim to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup.
– Pogba, Kante, Nkunku already out –
Benzema’s injury is a blow to Deschamps, whose preparations for the tournament had already been hampered by fitness issues.
France came to Qatar without the key duo of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, their starting midfield pair from the successful 2018 World Cup campaign, who were both ruled out through injury before Deschamps named his team.
Backup goalkeeper Mike Maignan and centre-back Presnel Kimpembe also withdrew before RB Leipzig striker Christopher Nkunku had to withdraw after suffering a knee injury in France’s final training session before leaving. for Qatar.
Nkunku has been replaced in the squad by Eintracht Frankfurt striker Randal Kolo Muani.
Manchester United defender Raphael Varane has also struggled to prove his fitness since breaking down in tears with a leg injury in a game against Chelsea on October 22.
Benzema, who turns 35 next month, had targeted the World Cup to cap off a remarkable career revival.
He won the Ballon d’Or after scoring 44 goals in 46 games for Real Madrid last season as the Spanish club won the Champions League and La Liga.
Benzema had previously been banned from the France squad for five-and-a-half years due to his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sex tape involving former team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
This caused him to miss out on France’s 2018 World Cup-winning campaign and landed him a one-year suspended prison sentence as well as a €75,000 fine.
On winning the Ballon d’Or, he said: “There are still things to do. I hope to be in the Qatar team, go to the World Cup and do everything to win it.”
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