PARIS (AP)Defending champion France’s World Cup injury worries continued as forward Christopher Nkunku was injured in the team’s last training session and replaced in the squad by Randal Kolo Muani on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old Nkunku went down clutching his left leg after a tackle from midfielder Eduardo Camavinga during training moments before the end of Tuesday evening’s session.
Kolo Muani was selected as his replacement shortly before the team flew out to Qatar on Wednesday, the French soccer federation said in a statement.
The federation did not say what Nkunku’s injury was but images showed him holding his left knee following the tackle and then limping off as he was assisted by a staff member.
Camavinga, who plays for Real Madrid, appeared to go into the challenge a little too hard and Nkunku – who had no time to pull out of the tackle – seemed to jar his knee.
Nkunku had celebrated his birthday at the team’s Clairefontaine training camp on Monday, posing for a photo with a thumbs-up.
Nkunku was named the best player in Germany’s Bundesliga by his fellow professionals last season. He scored 35 goals overall and provided 14 league assists for Leipzig, and he’d netted 17 goals in 23 games this season.
Nkunku’s absence deprives France coach Didier Deschamps of a player with skill, speed and excellent finishing. He showed his astute passing skills when he set up star striker Kylian Mbappe for a goal against Austria in June.
Kolo Muani has made a decent start since joining Eintracht Frankfurt from French Cup winner Nantes in the offseason. He has made two international appearances for France and is most dangerous when cutting inside from wide positions.
Deschamps is already missing midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who helped France win the World Cup four years ago. Central defender Presnel Kimpembe pulled out Monday after failing to sufficiently recover from a six-week layoff following a hamstring injury.
Deschamps has an anxious wait to see if his best central defender, Raphael Varane, is fit to face Australia on Nov. 22 – exactly a month since he limped off for Manchester United with a hamstring injury.
There’s also continuing doubt about Karim Benzema’s fitness. Since winning the Ballon d’Or last month, Benzema has played fewer than 30 minutes for Real Madrid coming off the bench in a Champions League game.
But he gave reassuring news in an extract of an interview with L’Equipe’s television channel, which is 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 TV. ”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.”
France plays Australia at Al Janoub Stadium, then faces Denmark before completing its Group D matches against Tunisia on Nov. 30.
No team has successfully defended its World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
The last time Les Bleus defended their title, as 1998 champions, they went out in the group stage in 2002.
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