Karim Benzema is flying home from the World Cup before kicking a ball in Qatar.
The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner has been a formidable force since returning to the French setup but when he limped out of training ahead of his country’s opening match against Australia, fans feared the worst.
Despite coming into the tournament with doubts about his striker’s fitness, Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps will have hoped to put Benzema at the heart of his plans.
Defending champions France have one of the tournament’s strongest squads but Benzema’s withdrawal is a nightmare – and extends the long list of injuries that have hit the 2018 winners.
Here’s the latest on the Real Madrid striker’s injury situation.
MORE: France’s World Cup injury woes: List of Les Bleus players struggling for fitness
The Real Madrid forward suffered a thigh problem and was forced to limp away from training on Saturday.
Benzema suffered pain in his left quadriceps and following scans in Doha on Saturday evening, the French squad confirmed the bad news via Twitter.
Didier Deschamps said: ‘“I am extremely sad for Karim, who made this World Cup a major target.”
Despite this new blow, I have full confidence in my group. We will do everything to meet the huge challenge that awaits us.
– France coach Didier Deschamps
The striker missed Real Madrid’s final four La Liga matches before the World Cup with an unrelated muscular pain but had recovered just in time to join his team-mates for training three days before kick-off.
Touché au quadriceps de la cuisse gauche, Karim @Benzema est contraint de renoncer à participer au Mondial.
Toute l’équipe partage la tristesse de Karim et lui souhaite un prompt rétablissement 💙#FiersdetreBleus pic.twitter.com/cxXFBpgFx8
Deschamps has until Monday to call up a replacement for Benzema in his 26-man squad, as per FIFA guidelines.
However, the former midfielder has opted to stick with his current roster, and confirm just 25 players for the tournament, but World Cup rules do allow him to change his mind before the deadline.
There will be no replacement for Karim Benzema, France coach Deschamps confirms. 🚨🇫🇷 #Qatar2022
After Kolo-Muani replacing Nkunku, no new changes in France list for the World Cup. pic.twitter.com/j5oELC4791
Losing their star striker marks a major blow for the French team though, who are already without the backbone of their midfield: N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.
France were touted as third-favourites by many oddsmakers, but that status could be hit by Benzema’s exit.
“In my life I have never given up… but tonight I have to think of the team as I have always done so reason tells me to leave my place to someone who can help our group to make a great world cup. Thank you for all your messages of support”.
Karim Benzema. pic.twitter.com/uKC1upPMWX
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
Deschamps’ decision has ended the debate over who could receive a late call to replace Benzema, despite his depth of attacking options left at home.
Wissam Ben Yedder was frustrated not to be named in the initial squad after netting 10 goals so far in 2022-23 for AS Monaco.
Anthony Martial had some injury trouble this season at Manchester United, but regained fitness in time for the World Cup, only to be left out of the squad. The 26-year-old has played 30 matches for the national team but never at the World Cup.
Nabil Fekir was regularly used as a substitute en-route to France’s 2018 glory but has fallen out of favour since.
In-form Bayer Leverkusen forward Moussa Diaby, Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Lemar and Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin were all tipped as outside candidates, if Deschamps wants to change his mind and bring in a late No. 26.
Following a season that earned him the Ballon d’Or, 2022 has turned sour for Benzema.
The striker has already missed 11 games for club and country this term… though he’s still notched five goals in seven LaLiga games.
Now Benzema has missed a rare chance to represent his nation at the World Cup while holding the title of world’s best footballer.
Qatar would have been Benzema’s second World Cup. He featured at Brazil 2014 but missed Russia 2018 following the sex-tape scandal that saw him barred from the national team.
At 34-years-old, unless he possesses the superhuman longevity of his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, his final World Cup chance may have passed.
MORE: Why didn’t Benzema play for France for six years? Sex tape scandal explained
The reigning world champions bring a squad packed with talent to Qatar. Although Benzema is a huge loss, they have plenty of talent in reserve to frighten anyone.