Didier Deschamps confident France can cope with absence of leading players

Defending World Cup champions France may have been rocked by the withdrawal of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema but manager Didier Deschamps insists his squad can cope with their growing injury list.

Benzema was forced out of the tournament with a thigh injury over the weekend, joining a list of absent senior players including N’Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe, Paul Pogba and Christopher Nkunku.

Benzema’s late exit robs them of a player who has been in some of the best form of his career but also another significant voice around the group.

Karim Benzema is out of France's World Cup campaign.
Real Madrid forward Benzema is out of the tournament (Adam Davy/PA)

Speaking on the eve of his side’s first game against Australia, Deschamps admitted Les Bleus were now without some of their bigger characters but believes those who remain have not been too badly affected.

“You think I can just click my fingers and someone can say ‘OK, I will be a leader, I will give pep talks and lead the squad to victory’? No, it’s something that comes with time,” he said.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, it can’t happen overnight, but we have what we need. We have enough players who are able to stimulate, get others going, talk in the dressing rooms, on the pitch, on the sidelines.

“But there are other types of leadership, it’s not just about speaking. If it is speaking to blow hot air then it’s not really worth it. It’s important that each player is a leader in their position, then we’ll see what they are made of on the pitch.

Anthony Martial has once again been overlooked by France.
Anthony Martial has once again been overlooked by Deschamps (Martin Rickett/PA)

“There’s no apprehension. We have done everything possible. There’s no anxiety, every is calm and there are cool heads.”

Deschamps also explained why he had declined to replace Benzema in his squad, leaving the likes of Manchester United forward Anthony Martial surplus to requirements.

“I’ve got 25 players in my squad. I’m convinced I have the efficient number of players to be able to deal with the challenges we face,” he said.

“Before (in previous tournaments) we had 22, 23. Now it is 26 and we are at 25. There are lots of possibilities, lots of players on the bench and therefore I believe we have everything we need.”

Socceroos manager Graham Arnold, the first home-grown coach to lead Australia to the World Cup, revealed he had taken a unique approach to his analysis of the world champions.

While focusing on the skills and qualities in the opposition side, he has sought to undermine any fear factor by identifying them only in anonymous terms.

“Not disrespectfully, but I’ve hardly mentioned the word ‘France’, I’ve hardly mentioned players’ names,” he said.

“The players know who they are. But it’s 10 blue shirts versus 10 yellow shirts. It’s a fight, that’s what it is.”

Asked how he treated a superstar of Kylian Mbappe’s calibre, Arnold added: “His strengths, his speed. He’s a winger who cuts inside on his right foot and shoots. We need to have players who are ready for that.”

Captain Mat Ryan was singing from the same hymn sheet, making it clear that treating France as equals was essential.

“The boys have a very good mentality. We don’t underestimate anybody and we don’t over-respect anybody,” he said.

“That’s the first step to performing in these matches, to get that spot on. We’re playing some very good players, a very good team, but we’re all human out there. It’s all about preparing well and if we do that to the standards we set we’ve got a really good chance to win.”

Goalkeeper Ryan was part of the team that lost 2-1 to France in Russia four years ago, with the winning goal coming just 10 minutes from time.

“It was definitely something I learned that day, that you’ve got to have the right amount of respect for the opposition: don’t be in awe of them, don’t be too overwhelmed, because that takes away your capabilities of playing to your own highest level,” he said.