France hit with more World Cup injury woe
Defending champions France will be without Karim Benzema for the Qatar World Cup after it was confirmed that the forward will miss the tournament because of a thigh injury.
Benzema, 34, was already a doubt for France’s opening game against Australia on Tuesday. After the Real Madrid striker withdrew from the team’s training session at the Jassim bin Hammad Stadium on Saturday, France confirmed that he would be absent for the entirety of the competition.
“I am extremely sad for Karim, who had made this World Cup a major objective,” French coach Didier Deschamps said in a statement.
“Despite this new blow for the French team, I have full confidence in my group. We will do everything to meet the huge challenge that awaits us.”
Benzema was awarded the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player last month, which was reward for a remarkable 2021/22 season in which he struck 44 goals in 46 appearances across all competitions, firing Real Madrid to the La Liga and Champions League titles. The forward has been hampered by muscle injuries this season which have reduced his playing time.
Benzema’s absence from Qatar means it will be the first time since 1978 that the reigning Ballon d’Or holder will miss the World Cup.
Benzema featured for France at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but was later exiled from the Les Bleus squad amid a long-running sex-tape scandal with former teammate Mathieu Valbuena. He returned for the 2020 European Championships, only for France to suffer a shock last-16 exit to Switzerland.
Benzema’s injury struggles in Qatar come after France already lost midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba prior to the tournament. The pair were integral to the French World Cup-winning team in Russia four years ago. Manager Deschamps then saw striker Christopher Nkunku ruled out after sustaining an injury in training. It later emerged that the RB Leipzig striker had torn a knee ligament.
Benzema is likely to be replaced in the starting line-up by veteran forward Olivier Giroud, who is just three goals away from passing Thierry Henry as the national team’s all-time top scorer. Deschamps could call up Manchester United’s Anthony Martial into the squad after Benzema’s exit.
Despite Benzema’s injury, Deschamps can still draw on a prodigiously talented squad which includes the likes of Paris Saint-German striker Kylian Mbappe, experienced defender Raphael Varane, and promising young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.
France start their World Cup campaign against Australia on Tuesday, before playing Group D rivals Denmark and Tunisia.