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PSG star withdraws from France World Cup squad through injury

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France have confirmed that centre-back Presnel Kimpembe has been forced to withdraw from the World Cup squad through injury.

The PSG man picked up a hamstring issue in October and followed that up with a minor Achilles injury upon his return, but he was included in Didier Deschamps’ initial 25-man World Cup squad and there was hope that he would recover in time for the World Cup.

Kimpembe even made his return to competitive action at the weekend as he came off the bench late in PSG’s 5-0 victory over Auxerre, adding to the optimism about his involvement at the tournament.

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However, France have now confirmed that he has not recovered enough to retain his spot in the squad, and Kimpembe himself has chosen to withdraw.

“Presnel Kimpembe will not participate in the World Cup,” a statement read. “The PSG defender does not consider himself sufficiently recovered to be able to hold his place in Les Bleus’ defence in Qatar.

“This decision was taken this Monday morning, in Clairefontaine, after an exchange between the player and the doctor of the French team, Dr. Franck Le Gall, then between the player and Didier Deschamps.

“The staff of the French team salute the honesty of Presnel and wish him to regain all of his physical means as soon as possible.”

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In his place, Monaco’s Axel Disasi has been called up to the squad.



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Gareth Southgate’s justification for Phil Foden decision is an insult to England supporters

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The Phil Foden discourse has rumbled on through the weekend. Now here we are, still talking about it. still scratching our heads and wondering what exactly Gareth Southgate’s thought process is as he picks his team (which is wrong) and makes his substitutions (which are also wrong), as we have done for every England manager since the dawn of time.

England managers always get a raw deal. Supporters always find a stick with which to beat them, even the fictional ones. Who didn’t feel the rage when Mike Bassett selected Tony Hedges (York City) and Ron Benson (Plymouth Argyle), for example? It isn’t often justified. But, then again, sometimes it is.

As England laboured towards a dreary 0-0 draw with the USA, fans understandably clamoured for Foden’s involvement. Southgate decided not to oblige them, afterwards citing the player’s lack of game time in the number ten position for Manchester City.

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This, more than anything else, should be cause for concern. Here we have the England manager essentially admitting that he saw no way through the mind-bending puzzle that is ‘fitting one of England’s most talented and versatile players into an already fluid 4-2-3-1 system.’

Let’s break this down. Foden can play as a 10, an attack-minded 8 and on either wing. Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham all had fairly ineffectual games against the USA and could have been replaced. Foden could have come on for each and every one of them with minimal reshuffling, depending on who else Southgate wanted off the bench.

Southgate’s reasoning – that Foden doesn’t play as a 10 for City – is complete nonsense. Players can operate in different roles for club and country, something he should know given how often he has fielded Kyle Walker at centre-back. When they’ve been training under Pep Guardiola for six seasons, they are not just comfortable doing it, but accustomed to it.

The justification also fails to hold up given that Marcus Rashford came on to replace Saka down England’s right-hand side, a position he very rarely plays for Manchester United.

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Double standards and logical inconsistencies have been a recurring theme during Southgate’s reign whenever he has attempted to defend his decisions – as though his quotes to the media were cynically engineered to enrage fans.

If they were, he hits the bullseye every time.

There were plenty of valid reasons for not bringing Foden into the game against the US. Given the situation in the group, it made sense to ensure England didn’t lose rather than going all out for the win and being caught out on the counter.

Foden’s defensive contribution and off-the-ball work isn’t as strong as other players, and we are yet to see him produce his level at Man City in an England shirt. Jack Grealish and Rashford both scored against Iran and therefore deserved their chance to impact the game off the bench too.

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Each argument has a fair rebuttal, though. England could have sealed qualification there and then with a win. Ostensibly attacking changes can prove to be defensive. Would Foden’s ability to receive the ball in tight spaces not have helped England get hold of a game they were struggling to control in midfield?

Does he need to be defensively robust when he has a solid back four and Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson behind him? What exactly is Foden on the pitch to do in the first place? It’s not to defend.

We haven’t seen his best for England because he’s so often been playing in Southgate’s favoured 3-4-3, as restrictive as it is depressing. Given Foden’s form this season, he should be lightyears ahead of Saka, Mount and Sterling, never mind Rashford and Grealish.

That debate can rage on and on. The point is that Southgate had a number of reasonable explanations to choose from. As a manager, we are by now well-accustomed to the overt pragmatism he wears as tightly as a Marks and Spencer waistcoat. Fans wouldn’t have been happy, but they might, at least, have understood.

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Instead, Southgate’s comment hinted at cowardice, disdain for supporters or, even worse, ineptitude. When a player with the ability of Foden isn’t coming off the bench at 0-0 there needs to be a damn good reason.

Southgate couldn’t come up with one. No wonder a national inquest is being held. His game-changing substitutions, or lack thereof, have cost England dearly in both the World Cup semi-final and Euro final. For all the talk of England fans picking anything to moan about, they absolutely have a right to be in up in arms over this.

These decisions can decide matches in knockout football. If you’re not making them in the group stage you’re certainly not going to be brave enough later in the tournament. Southgate still doesn’t seem to be able get them right, or even know why he makes them at all.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

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How Karim Benzema could return for France at World Cup

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Karim Benzema may be available to France for their World Cup defence after all after reports emerged of rapid progress in his recovery from injury.

Benzema was feared to be unavailable for the entire tournament after picking up an injury but did not withdraw from the squad, and France manager Didier Deschamps did not call up a replacement, instead opting to take 25 players to Qatar.

Initially feared to be out for around three weeks, Benzema had been the subject of multiple reports in Spain which claim that the Ballon d’Or winner is ahead of that schedule, and he could return to training as early as this week.

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Given he remains a part of the France squad, Benzema is technically still eligible to play at the World Cup and could return to Qatar if all goes well.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

France have made a strong start to their World Cup defence with victories over Australia and Denmark securing their spot in the last 16 with one group game to spare.

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Les Bleus play Tunisia on Wednesday to round out the group stages, before looking ahead to the knockout stages.



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Who could England face in the World Cup knockout stages?

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Four points from their opening two games have England in the driving seat in Group B at the World Cup.

One final game against Wales will decide whether they reach the knockout stages as group winners or runners up, though there remains the outside chance of an early elimination.

Gareth Southgate will be planning for the knockout stage, however, with a myriad of different nations standing between his squad and the World Cup final.

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Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

England currently top Group B and a win would take them through in first place. A draw is also good enough to progress, though that would open the door for Iran to take first place with a win over the USA.

Only a thrashing of three or more goals from Wales will result in an early elimination for the Three Lions.

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England will have designs on going through the group stage as winners, which would result in a favourable last 16 clash against the runners up of Group A, where the Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal reside. Finishing second in Group B would see England face the winners of Group A.

As group winners, a win in the round of 16 would see Southgate’s side book a quarter-final clash with either the Group D winners – likely to be France – or the runners up from Group C, where Poland, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Mexico are all still in contention.

As group runners up, a win in the round of 16 would set up a quarter-final tie against the Group C winners or the runners up from Group D.

There are a number of sides England could face in the semi-finals, but all come from Groups E, F, G and H. That pool includes nations like Spain, Japan, Croatia, Belgium, Brazil and Portugal.

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