Benzema injury is the latest blow to France – Deschamps must feel like champions are cursed

France’s World Cup preparations suffered another alarming disruption in the hours before the tournament began. Karim Benzema, such a crucial figure on and off the pitch, tore a muscle in his quadricep on Saturday evening. The injury itself should take three weeks to heal but the scars of missing out on this World Cup at the age of 34 will linger for far longer.

Benzema, who arrived in Doha in the final stages of recovery from knee and hamstring problem, was training with the group for the first time having worked separately with the fitness coaches. One second they were thinking about increasing his involvement, the next Benzema’s participation was over. An MRI scan at a local hospital confirmed the bad news and once Didier Deschamps consulted with the French team doctor, there was nothing to do but console the player and go back to a drawing board that has already had more than its fair share of crossing out .

“I am extremely sad for Karim who had made this World Cup a major ambition,” Deschamps said. “Despite this latest blow for the French team, I have full confidence in my squad. We will give everything to meet the immense challenge that awaits us.”

Although he can never say never, it would be highly improbable for Benzema to get another shot at the World Cup. He is 35 next month. This tournament promised a lot for him personally on the back of an exceptional couple of years, culminating in his Ballon D’Or award. A year that saw him climb so many pedestals — 2022’s best player and top scorer in La Liga and a centerpiece for Real Madrid’s relentlessly spectacular route to Champions League glory — has ended with pain.

The front page of L’Equipe summed up the mood of deflation. “Le Ballon De Plomb” headline said it all — the lead balloon.

Benzema remains on 97 caps for France. He was hoping to hit his century here. No doubt his international statistics would be higher were it not for the off-the-pitch scandal that kept him out of the French set-up for five years. He was implicated in the blackmail of a fellow player, Mathieu Valbuena, and was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence.

Because of this it was surprising when Deschamps suddenly changed his tune to end Benzema’s exile and recall him in France’s squad for the 2020 European Championship (played in 2021), having missed out on a home Euros in 2016 and the 2018 World Cup France won without him

Deschamps still has at his disposal the attacking trio which spearheaded France’s World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago. Olivier Giroud is still going strong, with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann well versed in how to dovetail around the target man. The in-form Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is touted to be involved as an alternative.


Dembele may be used in Benzema’s place (Photo: Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

France had been intending to tinker with that successful forward line from 2018, particularly given Benzema’s status and the exciting strides made by Christopher Nkunku. But both are injury victims.

The drip, drip effect of the withdrawals of major players seems only to have made this situation somehow worse. Every few days another join falls off the scaffolding of the team. France have influences ripped out of all the major sectors of the team: Mike Maignan was ruled out of the goalkeepers collection, Princel Kimpembe was unable to come in to man the defense, the double break to the midfield spine of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Cante is galling. Now two strikers have been forced to pull out within five days.

The word that has come up in many an interview ahead of this World Cup is ‘malediction‘. Curse. Until recently that mainly referred to the curse of defending champions failing to get out of the group stage of the subsequent competition. But Deschamps must feel cursed to lose so many critical players so close to the kick-off in Qatar.

The three candidates to replace Benzema in the squad are Martin Terrier, Wissam Ben Yedder and Moussa Diaby. France have until Monday evening to organize a replacement — even if replacing Benzema and what he embodies is not going to be easy for anyone.

France opened their World Cup defense on Tuesday against Australia.

(Photo: FRANK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

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