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Benzema out of World Cup

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DOHA:

France’s hopes of successfully defending the World Cup were dealt a huge blow late on Saturday as Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament in Qatar with an injured left thigh.

The 34-year-old Real Madrid striker had been struggling with the injury for some time and had played less than half an hour of football in his club’s last six games before the World Cup.

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On Saturday, he took part in full training for the first time since the World Cup holders gathered last week ahead of the tournament.

He was forced to withdraw from the session at the home stadium of Qatari champions Al Sadd with the injury and was taken for tests.

The French Football Federation (FFF) later said in a statement that the injury “will require a recovery period of three weeks”, ruling out any prospect of him being fully fit for the tournament which finishes on December 18.

“I am extremely sad for Karim, for whom this World Cup was a major objective,” France coach Didier Deschamps was quoted as saying in the FFF statement.

“Despite this new blow for the France team I have full faith in my squad. We will do all we can to rise to the huge challenge that awaits us.”

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The 36-year-old Olivier Giroud is set to benefit from Benzema’s absence by coming into the France attack alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

However, under FIFA rules Deschamps can still call up a replacement for an injured player until Monday, on the eve of their first game.

France begin their defence of the trophy on Tuesday, when they take on Australia in Al Wakrah.

They will also play Denmark and Tunisia in Group D as they aim to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup.

Benzema’s injury is a major blow for Deschamps, whose preparations for the tournament had already been hampered by fitness problems.

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France have come to Qatar without the key duo of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, their starting midfield pairing from the successful 2018 World Cup campaign, who were both ruled out due to injury before Deschamps named his squad.

Back-up goalkeeper Mike Maignan and centre-back Presnel Kimpembe also withdrew before RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku had to pull out after suffering a knee injury in France’s final training session before departing for Qatar.

Nkunku was replaced in the squad by Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani.

Manchester United defender Raphael Varane has also been struggling to prove his fitness since coming off in tears with a leg injury in a game against Chelsea on October 22.

Benzema, who will turn 35 next month, had targeted the World Cup to cap off a remarkable career renaissance.

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He won the Ballon d’Or after scoring 44 goals in 46 games for Real Madrid last season as the Spanish club won the Champions League and La Liga.

Benzema had previously been frozen out of the France team for five-and-a-half years because of his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sex tape involving his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

That saw him miss France’s victorious 2018 World Cup campaign and led to him being handed a one-year suspended prison sentence as well as a fine of 75,000 euros.

On winning the Ballon d’Or he said: “There are things that are still left to be done. I hope to be in the squad for Qatar, to go to the World Cup and do everything to win it.”





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Uruguay held by South Korea in goalless stalemate

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Uruguay faltered in their World Cup opener against a lively and energetic South Korea after they were held to a 0-0 draw in Group H on Thursday in a contest where both teams struggled to find the clinical edge.

Clear-cut chances were rare for either side at the Education City Stadium and although Uruguay created more goalscoring opportunities, neither team were able to register a shot on target.

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Uruguay captain Diego Godin was denied by the woodwork while South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy, leaving both teams to rue missed chances before group rivals Portugal and Ghana meet later on in the day.

Uruguay’s first sight of goal came in the 19th minute through Federico Valverde, who connected with Jose Maria Gimenez’s pass and took a touch before firing a half-volley towards goal, but his ambitious attempt went just over the bar.

The South Americans had begun to find their footing when South Korea, having been patient so far, disrupted their rhythm and launched a counter-attack from a Uruguay corner before the half-hour mark. Son Heung-min picked up the ball on the left flank and cut inside, skipping past two Uruguay defenders before curling a right-footed effort towards goal, but left back Mathias Olivera was able to clear it away. South Korea should have taken the lead in the 34th minute when Moon-hwan Kim fizzed the ball into the penalty area and into the path of Hwang in front of goal, but the forward could not keep his composure and sent it over the crossbar.

The closest Uruguay came to scoring in the first half was just before the break, when centre back Godin rose highest to power a header from Valverde’s corner but it bounced off the left post and away from goal. Gimenez made a crucial tackle to deny Son five minutes after the restart after a flowing move from South Korea, while Jung Woo-young blocked midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur’s powerful strike at the other end. Uruguay saw more of the ball but found few chances to break through the South Korean defence until the closing stages, when Valverde unleashed a thunderbolt in the final minute of regulation time that struck the top of the post.





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World Cup fans in Qatar introduced to Islam

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The Katara Cultural Village Mosque in Qatar’s capital of Doha has become the focus of attention for World Cup fans who want to get to know about Islam.

Multilingual male and female preachers at the mosque explain the religion and tolerance of Islam to tourists.

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Electronic boards about Islam in more than 30 languages at the door are positioned to allow visitors to view them on their phones. And booklets introducing Islam in different languages ​​are distributed to those who want them.

The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Qatar also launched a pavilion to introduce Islam and its teachings during the World Cup 2022.

Also read: Batshuayi fires Belgium to World Cup

World Cup fans encounter hadiths — words, actions or habits of Prophet Muhammad — on the walls of streets, describing the importance of good deeds.

The opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 was last Sunday at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

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The tournament’s official mascot, La’eeb, whose name is an Arabic word that means super-skilled player, along with the flags of all 32 participating nations were waving on the field.





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Ronaldo and Brazil enter World Cup fray after Swiss win

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Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to put his painful Manchester United divorce behind him at the World Cup on Thursday as Brazil also make their bow following a win for Switzerland in the early kick-off.

Ronaldo’s preparations for what is likely to be his last World Cup have been overshadowed by his sudden departure from Old Trafford this week after he lambasted the club in a TV interview.

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The Portugal superstar’s form this season has been poor but he is still hoping for a final shot at glory in Qatar after leading his team to the Euro 2016 title.

The 37-year-old, whose club future is uncertain, is aiming to become the first player in history to score at five World Cups.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said his men were entirely focused on their opening Group H match against Ghana despite the distractions of the media circus surrounding their captain.

“The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing,” he said.

“Winning a competition of this magnitude is difficult.”

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World Cup favourites Brazil launch their bid for a record-extending sixth global crown against a dangerous Serbia side.

Brazil boast a frightening array of attacking talent including Paris Saint-German forward Neymar and Real Madrid pair Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

Coach Tite will be wary of his Group G opponents after witnessing shock defeats for Argentina and Germany already in Qatar.

“In my opinion these players (attackers) will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him,” said veteran Brazil skipper Thiago Silva.

“The atmosphere in the squad is super-healthy,” he added. “The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection.”

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Serbia appear a more dangerous proposition than four years ago, when they also faced Brazil in the group stage but lost 2-0 and exited in the first round.

“We are afraid of nobody in the world, not even Brazil,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who hopes prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will be fit for the match at the Lusail Stadium.

Switzerland and Cameroon, also in Brazil’s group, kicked off Thursday’s action in Qatar, with the Swiss winning 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Cameroon-born Breel Embolo.

The forward struck three minutes into the second half at Al Janoub Stadium as Switzerland secured a vital three points.

Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler worked the ball out wide on the right to Xherdan Shaqiri, whose low cross into the area was swept home by an unmarked Embolo, who chose not to celebrate against his birth country.

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“It’s quite special for him because of his links to Cameroon — I’m very happy he’s playing for us,” said Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. “He’s always right there when you need him.”

Defeat condemned Cameroon to their eighth straight loss at World Cups — a miserable run stretching all the way back to 2002.

Son Heung-min was named in the starting line-up for South Korea’s Group H opener against Uruguay at 1300 GMT even though he was wearing a mask after suffering a fracture around his left eye earlier this month.

Uruguay coach Diego Alonso selected Luis Suarez up front, with fellow veteran Edinson Cavani on the bench.

Germany coach Hansi Flick said no member of his team was safe after their shock 2-1 defeat against Japan on Wednesday.

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The four-time champions, who next face Spain, are facing a nightmare scenario of a second consecutive group-stage exit after their early departure in Russia in 2018.

“You can understand that we are discussing every matter of personnel and every position,” Flick said.





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