DOHA: World Cup holders France have suffered a new setback in their title defence with the departure of injured star striker Karim Benzema.
Even before .flying to Qatar coach Didier Deschamps’s squad was missing long-term absentees Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, two of their heroes in Russia in 2018.
Real Madrid centre-forward and captain Benzema limped out of training on Saturday with a left thigh injury. The French federation has since confirmed that an MRI scan had revealed a muscle tear which would rule him out of action for at least three weeks.
France launch their campaign against Australia on Tuesday. They will have until 24 hours before their first game to name a replacement.
Deschamps said: “I am extremely sad for Karim, who had made this World Cup a major objective. Despite this new blow I have full confidence in my group. We will do everything to meet the huge challenge that awaits us.”
Benzema posted, on Instagram: “I’ve never given up in my life but tonight I have to think of the team, as I have always done. Reason tells me to give my place to someone who can help our squad have a great World Cup. Thanks for all your messages of support.”
France had already been forced to replace RB Leipzig striker Christopher Nkunku and Paris Saint-Germain centre back Presnel Kimpembe with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo Muani and Monaco’s Axel Disasi.
Benzema was France’s top scorer at the 2014 World Cup but did not play in their victorious 2018 World Cup campaign because he was still exiled from the team for his alleged role in a sex-tape scandal with then-France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Deschamps recalled him for last year’s European Championship, where he was France’s top scorer with four goals.
The 34-year-old enjoyed a career-best season with Real Madrid last campaign, finishing as top scorer in LaLiga (27 goals) and the Champions League (15 goals) to lead the Spanish giants to both major trophies.
However, he has played only 26 minutes of football in the past month because of muscular fatigue, and Saturday was the first time he had trained with the France squad since their assembly last Monday.