France are on the verge of a successful title defence at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a run which is all the more impressive because of the players they are missing.
Potentially key figures including Mike Maignan, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante were ruled out before the reigning champions lost the current Ballon d’Or winner in Karim Benzema.
The 34-year-old is a game-changing goalscorer with the ability to turn the tightest of matches, yet France have managed to average more than two goals a game in the knockout stages despite being bereft of Benzema.
Here’s why Benzema is missing and his chances of collecting a gold medal if France complete the job against Argentina.
Where is Karim Benzema?
Benzema was named in France’s final 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup but was withdrawn from it just days before the tournament began.
The Real Madrid hitman has since been recuperating and has returned to training at the Champions League holders’ training base this week.
What is Karim Benzema’s injury?
The forward injured his left quadriceps during training and scans the following day saw his journey in Qatar end before it even began.
The scorer of 37 senior international goals wasn’t included in the France squad that won the 2018 World Cup and based on his age, it’s unlikely he’ll feature at the next tournament.
This year had been an otherwise brilliant one for Benzema, with the forward winning the 2022 Ballon d’Or as a result of his fine form that inspired Real Madrid to win La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
De ma vie je n’ai jamais abandonné mais ce soir il faut que je pense à l’équipe comme je l’ai toujours fait alors la raison me dit de laisser ma place à quelqu’un qui pourra aider notre groupe à faire une belle Coupe du Monde. Merci pour tous vos messages de soutien 🙌🏼❤️ pic.twitter.com/SBalX0juAH
— Karim Benzema (@Benzema) November 19, 2022
Could Benzema play in final?
Benzema would have to make the journey from Madrid to Qatar to join the France squad if he is to play a part at the last in his country’s campaign.
Bleus head coach Didier Deschamps politely refused to answer when he was questioned about the prospect of one of his star players returning to action on Sunday.
Respected French journalist Julien Laurens told TalkSport that there was no chance of Benzema being back for the game because he will not be fit enough and it would be unfair on other forwards in the squad.
Will Karim Benzema earn winner’s medal if France win?
The timing of Benzema’s injury meant France could have replaced him on their World Cup squad but decided against doing so.
Deschamps had already brought in two players in the form of Axel Disasi and Randal Kolo Muani as injury replacements.
The fact Benzema was never replaced in the squad means he could still receive a winners’ medal, should France manage to lift the trophy again.
Do World Cup players need to play to earn winner’s medal?
It is a glorious piece of gold or a memento of a near-miss for players after the FIFA World Cup final, but the medals from the most prestigious tournament in football symbolise the achievements of athletes who have reached the pinnacle of the game.
When the action from 64 matches comes to a close with the decider in Doha, millions around the world will watch players pick up the newest collection of keepsakes from a tournament like no other in Qatar.
Each player who is named in the winning squad will receive a gold medal, meaning Benzema would indeed be allocated one if France triumph because he has not been replaced in the squad.
As much as Benzema will have felt frustration at not being involved, that will be some consolation if his teammates beat Argentina in his absence and cap a superb calendar year for him.
Benzema’s medal will also serve as recognition of the three goals he scored in France’s qualification path to the finals.
Players representing the runners-up receive silver medals, with the team winning the third place playoff given bronze medals and all the members of other squads at the tournament receiving medals recognising their participation at the finals.
Has Karim Benzema won a World Cup?
The World Cup is one of the few trophies Benzema has not won during an exceptional career in which he has lifted the Champions League five times and the French and Spanish top-flight titles four times each.
Benzema won the U17 EURO in 2004 and made his senior debut in March 2007 with the only goal of a game against Austria.
His greatest achievement with France has been the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League title, which he won after his period in international exile.
In 2015, Benzema was accused of putting pressure on former France midfielder Mathieu Valbuena to pay a blackmailer who had threatened to release a sex tape showing Valbuena.
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister at the time, said Benzema should not have been in the national team, and he was subsequently banned from the squad at the end of that year.
Deschamps excluded Benzema from his selection from EURO 2016, and French Football Federation president Noel Le Great asserted in 2019 that Benzema’s “adventure” with France had finished.
“I never said that Karim was not eligible for France,” Deschamps said when Benzema returned in May 2021. “We can’t go back in time. The most important is that we saw each other. I needed it, and he did too.
“In my head, I made the decision a while ago. There were many discussions, weighing the pros and cons. It was done very discreetly, but it was only between Karim and I.”
Benzema was convicted of complicity to blackmail in the case at the end of 2021, receiving a one-year suspended prison sentence, a fine and a compensation order to Valbuena.
When he decided not to appeal in June 2022, Benzema’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told L’Equipe (via GFFN): “Karim Benzema will always proclaim his innocence in this case and he never wanted to take part in a blackmail operation against Mathieu Valbuena.”