DOHA, Qatar — Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid forward seen as crucial to France’s hopes of becoming the first team to retain the World Cup in more than half a century, has been forced to pull out of the tournament with an injury barely 24 hours before it starts.
The 34-year-old Benzema, who last month won the Ballon d’Or, the prestigious award that anoints the world player of the year, sustained an injury to his left thigh during a training session on Saturday. He was immediately ruled out of France’s opening game against Australia, but scans later confirmed the damage was severe enough that he would not recover in time to play any part in the tournament.
“I’ve never given up in my life but tonight I have to think of the team, as I have always done,” Benzema wrote on Instagram. “Reason tells me to give my place to someone who can help our squad have a great World Cup.”
Didier Deschamps, the French coach, said he felt “extremely sad” for Benzema, “who had made this World Cup a major objective.” Benzema missed France’s victory in the 2018 tournament as part of a yearslong ostracism from the national team related to a blackmail scandal. Under the World Cup’s rules, Deschamps has 24 hours to name a replacement.
Benzema is not the only headline act missing through injury in Qatar. The Senegal and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mané was ruled out last week with a knee injury. Argentina has lost midfielder Giovani Lo Celso. Germany will be without forwards Marco Reus and Timo Werner, and Portugal is missing striker Diogo Jota.
France, though, has been especially hard hit. As well as Benzema, Deschamps will go into the tournament without two of his first-choice midfielders, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, as well as the defender Presnel Kimpembé. Christopher Nkunku, who would otherwise have been Benzema’s obvious replacement, was ruled out after he was injured in a training session last week.
“I have full confidence in my group,” Deschamps said. “We will do everything to meet the huge challenge that awaits us.”