France striker Karim Benzema has been ruled out of the World Cup after sustaining a left thigh injury during training in Doha on Saturday, the French federation has confirmed.
The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner felt severe pain in his thigh during a sprint towards the end of training.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (USA)
After undergoing an MRI, it was confirmed that Benzema had suffered a muscle tear that would take three weeks to recover from.
The 2022 World Cup, which starts on Sunday and runs until the final on December 18, will now be the first since 1978 not to feature the reigning Ballon d’Or winner.
France will begin the defense of their 2018 World Cup title against Australia on Tuesday. According to FIFA rules, they will have up to 24 hours before the first match to name a replacement for their team.
France’s other attacking options in their squad include 2018 star Kylian Mbappe, as well as Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Marcus Thuram and Ousmane Dembele.
“I am extremely sad for Karim, who has made this World Cup his main goal,” 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 great challenge that awaits us.”
Benzema also addressed his retirement in a post on Instagram.
“I’ve never given up in my life, but tonight I have to think about the team, as I always have,” he said. “So common sense tells me to give my seat to someone who can help our team have a great World Cup. Thanks for all the messages of support.”
France’s preparations in Qatar have already been hit by the injury withdrawals of RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and Paris Saint-Germain centre-back Presnel Kimpembe.
Randal Kolo Muani of Eintracht Frankfurt and Axel Disasi of Monaco were named as substitutes.
– World Cup 2022: schedule, previews and how to watch
– World Cup 2022: Previews for all 32 teams
Benzema was France’s top scorer at the 2014 World Cup, but did not play in their victorious 2018 World Cup campaign as he was still axed from the squad for his alleged role in a sex tape scandal with then-France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Deschamps called him up for last year’s European Championship where he was France’s top scorer with four goals.
The 34-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career with Real Madrid last season, finishing as the top scorer in La Liga (27 goals) and the Champions League (15 goals) to lead the Spanish giants to both major trophies.
However, he struggled with injuries during the first part of this season.
He has played just 26 minutes of football in the past month due to muscle fatigue and on Saturday trained with the French squad for the first time since they met on Monday.
Deschamps was optimistic that his striker could recover in time, but Saturday’s injury ruled him out of the tournament.
Even before naming his squad, the France coach was without long-term injuries to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante — two key players when Les Bleus won the World Cup in Russia four years ago.
This report used information from the Associated Press.