DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Defending champion France’s World Cup hopes took a huge blow with the news that star striker Karim Benzema is out of the tournament after tearing a muscle in his left thigh during training on Saturday.
“Karim Benzema is out of the World Cup,” the French soccer federation (FFF) said. "After hurting the quadriceps on his left thigh the Real Madrid striker is forced to give up on taking part in the World Cup.”
Benzema was participating in his first full training session with Les Bleus when he had to come off after feeling some pain in his left thigh, the FFF said.
“He went for an MRI scan in a hospital (clinic) in Doha, which unfortunately confirmed a tear,” the FFF said, adding that he will need three weeks to recover.
“I'm very sad for Karim who had made this World Cup a major objective,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Benzema had hardly played at all in recent weeks and this was his first full training session with Les Bleus.
Since winning the Ballon d’Or last month, Benzema has played fewer than 30 minutes for Madrid after coming off the bench in a Champions League game.
L'Equipe earlier reported that Benzema “felt a sharp muscle pain” in his left thigh in training.
France faces Australia on Tuesday in Group D, then Denmark four days later and Tunisia on Nov. 30.
Benzema was France's top scorer at the 2014 World Cup but did not play in France's 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.
France coach Didier Deschamps recalled him for last year's European Championship, where he was France's top scorer with four goals.
Earlier this week Benzema gave reassuring news in an extract of an interview with L’Equipe’s television channel, which was set to air on Sunday.
“I’m fine. I had a bit of pain but no tear and no serious injury. I could have played (for Madrid) but I wasn’t at 100%,” he told L’Equipe’s TV channel this week. “It wasn’t a case of taking or not taking any risks, it’s just that I wasn’t at 100%. Since then I’ve been working well in the gym. I’ve been running, stretching, so it’s fine.”
Deschamps has seen his squad riddled with injuries.
Forward Christopher Nkunku was injured just minutes before the end of the team’s last training session on Tuesday evening and replaced in the squad by Randal Kolo Muani on Wednesday.
Deschamps is already missing midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who helped France win the World Cup four years ago.
Deschamps has an anxious wait to see if his best central defender, Raphael Varane, is fit to face Australia — exactly a month since he limped off for Manchester United with a hamstring injury.
Fellow World Cup winner and central defender Presnel Kimpembe pulled out Monday after failing to sufficiently recover from a six-week layoff following a hamstring injury.
Even without Benzema, France still has a strong attack to face Australia. France is likely to start with Olivier Giroud as the central striker, flanked by 2018 World Cup star Kylian Mbappe and either Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele or veteran Antoine Griezmann.
Giroud has scored 49 goals for France, Griezmann has 42 and the 23-year-old Mbappe already has 28. Dembele has been in fine form for Spanish league leader Barcelona this season.
Deschamps has until Monday — the eve of the Australia game — to call up a replacement for Benzema to his 26-player squad. Monaco striker Wissam Ben Yedder, who has three international goals, could be an option.
But Deschamps already has ample forward backup with Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman, Marcus Thuram and Kolo Muani.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press