DOHA, Qatar (AP) — One month after raising the Ballon d’Or in triumph to crown his remarkable rise, Karim Benzema’s dream of winning the FIFA World Cup 2022 is over before he has even played a game in Qatar.
Defending champion France’s World Cup hopes took a huge blow with the news that its star striker 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.
Benzema addressed his fans after the news emerged.
“I’ve never given up in my life but tonight I have to think of the team, as I have always done,” Benzema posted on his Instagram account. “So reason tells me to give my place to someone who can help our squad have a great World Cup. Thanks for all your messages of support.”
France coach Didier Deschamps said: “I’m very sad for Karim who had made this World Cup a major objective,”
Benzema had hardly played at all in recent weeks — since winning the Ballon d’Or, he has played fewer than 30 minutes for Madrid — and this was his first full training session with France.
France faces Australia on Tuesday in Group D, then Denmark four days later and Tunisia on Nov. 30.
It is a crushing blow for Benzema, only the fifth Frenchman to win the Ballon d’Or award and the first since Zinedine Zidane, his idol, in 1998.
The hugely talented Benzema, who is of Algerian descent, came through Lyon’s renowned youth academy and scored the first of his Champions League goals as an audaciously gifted 17-year-old. He’s now fourth all-time with 86 goals.
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.
The fallout from that scandal led to a dramatic fall from grace for Benzema. He faced a nationwide deluge of vitriol and scathing criticism, including on the political level. It led to a long exclusion from the national team from Oct. 2015 until his recall by Deschamps in May last year.
With his relationship with Deschamps repaired, Benzema scored freely for France with 10 goals in 16 games since coming back to reach 37 overall, and he formed a great partnership with Kylian Mbappe.
He won the hearts of French fans and cemented his place in the affections of Madrid’s equally demanding supporters. Benzema won five Champions League titles and has moved up to second place in Madrid’s all-time scoring list with 329 goals.
At last year’s European Championship, Benzema looked sharp and 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.
Now Benzema joins the list of big names injured shortly before the World Cup — like Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Germany’s Timo Werner. Not to mention Benzema’s own teammates, Paul Pogba, N’Gole Kante and Christopher Nkunku.