Karim Benzema, the recently crowned Ballon d’Or winner, is a major doubt for the entire World Cup after suffering a fresh injury set-back on his attempted return to full training with France.
The Real Madrid star has been troubled by a muscular injury around his quadricep over the past month, playing less than 30 minutes of club football in the build-up to Qatar, but had been following a graduated return with France.
Having spent the first three days in Qatar training only with Manchester United defender Raphael Varane, he had joined up with group training for the first time on Saturday evening.
They had both come through the initial warm-up in front of the media unscathed, but Benzema then suffered a significant set-back once the session went behind closed doors and increased in intensity.
It is understood that he has suffered a new injury to his thigh, rather than aggravating the previous condition, and scans will now take place to discover the extent of the damage.
Benzema is definitely out of the opening match of the tournament against Australia and rated as a doubt for the entire tournament. The 34-year-old won the Ballon d’Or last month after spearheading Madrid’s Champions League triumph earlier this year – his fifth at the club – as well as another La Liga title.
France manager Didier Deschamps had always been planning to increase the intensity of Benzema’s training over the coming days after a season in which he has scored five times in only seven La Liga games.
Benzema previously missed the World Cup when France triumphed in 2018 but has returned over the past 18 months in style, scoring 10 goals in 16 games for Les Bleus following six years in international exile.
France’s preparations for the defence of the World Cup have already been complicated by the absence of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Christopher Nkunku through injury.
The loss of Benzema would also be a huge wider blow for the tournament. Sadio Mane, who was the runner up to Benzema in this year’s Ballon d’Or, has also already been ruled out for Senegal. The former France and Chelsea striker Oliver Giroud is likely to start with Kylian Mbappe in attack in the absence of Benzema.
Varane is also a doubt for the Australia match but Monaco defender Axel Disasi is confident that the defending champions have the cover to cope.
“Raphael has a lot of experience – he knows what a World Cup is – he is a champion,” Disasi said. “To not have him every day could be a problem. But there are lots of other defenders working hard and they are all of very good quality. Everybody is ready to play their role. Whoever plays, the quality of the team will be good.”
Can Giroud break Thierry Henry’s scoring record?
While Olivier Giroud will go down as the striker who won the World Cup without having a shot on target, four years on from his triumph he has a very different record in his sights.
At 36 years old, he accepts this will be the last time he features at the biggest tournament on the planet and this time he is within sight of becoming France’s greatest goalscorer, two away from Thierry Henry’s record of 51 goals.
That he is even in Didier Deschamps’ squad was an uncertainty when he was left out for Nations League games in June, despite playing an important role in AC Milan winning the Scudetto in his first season in Italy after almost a decade in the Premier League.
With Arsenal and Chelsea he may not have been loved as other players, yet every Eden Hazard or Alexis Sanchez at their peak needs a Giroud, occupying centre-backs and creating room for the showstoppers.
It is no different for France with Kylian Mbappe now benefitting, although their relationship has not been straightforward. Their biggest star was upset with Giroud at the European Championships over talking in public about not getting service.
But the issue appeared to be buried in September with Mbappe talking about “freedom” against Austria playing alongside Giroud, now back in the squad and playing his way towards a seat on the plane to Qatar.
“Sure, I accept that,” said Giroud, speaking at France’s training base at Al Sadd SC Stadium. “I have a profile that is an attacking profile and as in English we say a target man, all along my career other players have liked playing with me. It’s like a relay system.
“In that match we played really well together. For him it’s something he likes, to lean on me and to evolve in those kind of actions, that is where my characteristics help. With Kylian, it’s always nice to hear Kylian talk nice about you, so it’s great for what comes next.”
France World Cup 2022 squad
France announced their 25-man squad on November 9, and named five Premier League starters: William Saliba, who has contributed to Arsenal’s dazzling form this season, Raphael Varane, Alphonse Areola, Ibrahima Konate, and captain Hugo Lloris.
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Rennes)
Defenders: Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris St-Germain), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool), Jules Kounde (Barcelona), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), William Saliba (Arsenal), Dayot Upamencano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid), Jordan Veretout (Marseille)
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kinglsey Coman (Bayern Munich), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain), Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt), Marcus Thuram, (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Who are their key players?
Hugo Lloris has been one of France’s most crucial players since the turn of the century and will likely become the nation’s most-capped player in Qatar.
At the ripe old age of 35, the Spurs goalkeeper has captained his country since 2012 and his experience as well as his reliability will be vital for Les Bleus.
Similarly, Karim Benzema is a man for the big occasion after a phenomenal campaign with Real Madrid last season, but injury could deny the team of his servvices
France will definitely be without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who have both been ruled out with injury.
What are France’s fixtures?
France will be playing Australia, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D.
What is France’s World Cup record?
France are defending champions, having beaten Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 final at the end of a near faultless run, including victories over Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium.
That was their second World Cup victory following the Zinedine Zidane-inspired triumph, when he scored twice in a 3-0 battering of Brazil in the 1998 final.
However, it was arguably the great midfielder’s head-first assault on Marco Materazzi and subsequent sending off that cost his side in the 2006 final, which Italy went on to win on penalties.
France boast some of the most talented players in the world and possess a particularly fearsome attack. They should ease through their group yet, while it would be unwise to rule them out of winning it again, France have a history of implosion on the international stage. Additionally, no team has managed back-to-back world titles since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Argentina | Australia | Belgium | Brazil | Cameroon | Canada | Costa Rica | Croatia | Denmark | Ecuador | England | France | Germany | Ghana | Iran | Japan | Mexico | Morocco | Netherlands | Poland | Portugal | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Senegal | Serbia | South Korea | Spain | Switzerland | Tunisia | Uruguay | USA | Wales
What are the latest odds?
Benzema to follow up the Ballon d’Or with the Golden Boot in Qatar? Find the latest top scorer odds here for the Frenchman
France are currently a best price of 7/1 to win the World Cup.
Other leading contenders…
Information correct as of November 19