DOHA (Reuters) – France coach Didier Deschamps refused on Tuesday to discuss Karim Benzema’s case after the Ballon d’Or winner was spotted arriving on holiday on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion after withdrawing from the World Cup.
The Real Madrid striker withdrew from the France squad with a left thigh injury on the eve of the tournament and left his team’s hotel in Qatar shortly afterwards. He arrived in Reunion, the French overseas department, early on Tuesday morning after rumors in Spain he might return to training with his club.
Sources close to Benzema said the player would stay on the island for a week. When asked about Benzema, who is still officially in France’s World Cup squad and has not been replaced, Deschamps denied the question.
“You look for things there, but those things are not in my mind. I don’t know who says what, where and how,” the French national team coach told a news conference in Doha ahead of Wednesday’s final group match against Tunisia.
“I spoke with Karim after he left, and you know what his situation is and how long he will stay. “I focus on the 24 players who are here. I’ll let you talk about it and discuss it if you like, but I won’t talk about things that don’t affect what we do here from day to day.”
The French Football Federation said Benzema will be out of action for three weeks after his injury, which technically means he could be fit to return at the end of the World Cup if France goes that far.
France have won their Group D matches so far in the tournament against Australia and Denmark, and a draw against Tunisia on Wednesday will ensure they qualify for the round of 16 as winners from their group.
Even defeat suffices as long as Australia does not defeat Denmark and manage to overturn France’s goal difference advantage, which is currently six goals ahead.
So Deschamps is expected to rotate his squad and give some of his players on the sidelines a final run before their last-16 clash on Saturday or Sunday. “The fact that we know we succeeded, like Brazil and Portugal, gives us more room to make changes, but we must not underestimate the value of this third match,” said Deschamps.
We should try to get the best possible result, without being obligated to do so. It’s a World Cup match and it’s important that we keep our dynamism going.”
Tunisia – whose squad includes 10 French-born players – must win the match at the Education City Stadium to have a chance to advance, but they are undefeated by the two-time world champions. “The message I would like to pass on to my players is that nothing is impossible. We are still alive,” said Jalil Kadri, coach of the Tunisian national team.
Match of the day
Tunisia vs France
8:00 p.m. PST