WORLD CUP WATCH: Varane injury hurts France’s defense

PARIS (AP) — The World Cup begins to prey on the minds of players. Raphael Varane’s reaction to his injury while playing for Manchester United at the weekend was a case in point.

The France defender left the pitch at Stamford Bridge in tears after injuring his right hamstring while stretching to make a tackle in the second half of United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea..

After receiving treatment, he was inconsolable and pulled his shirt over his head as his United team-mates came over, some wrapping their arms around him and Portugal international Diogo Dalot even kissing him on the head.

Almost a normal reaction of Varane, or even his teammates, to an injury. Make no mistake – the World Cup, which is less than a month away, is weighing heavily on their minds.

For France coach Didier Deschamps, the defensive problems are piling up, with Varane’s fitness for the tournament now clearly in doubt, with other defenders recovering from injuries.

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Varane is essential to the defending World Cup champions as their best and most experienced defender. The elegant, ball-playing 29-year-old has outstanding positional play and is an adept reader of the game. He made all 87 international appearances under Deschamps and played a crucial role in the team’s World Cup success four years ago.

His regular centre-back partner is Presnel Kimpembe, who has made 28 international appearances but has only just resumed training after recovering from a hamstring injury. Kimpembe could at least play a few games for Paris Saint-Germain before the World Cup.

Wesley Fofana, signed by Chelsea for $87 million in the transfer window, is yet to make his debut in France but could provide valuable cover in Qatar. However, Fofana injured his knee earlier this month and is not expected to play for Chelsea ahead of the World Cup.

That means Arsenal’s William Saliba has a strong chance of making the squad – and may even play in France’s opener against Australia on November 22. The 21-year-old Saliba’s form has helped Arsenal to the top of the Premier League.

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If Varane and Kimpembe are both ruled out, then Saliba could line up alongside Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano, who like Saliba has seven France caps.

Another option is Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile, but he has just joined the France squad.

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NEUHAUS OUT

German midfielder Florian Neuhaus will miss the tournament as he continues his recovery from a knee injury sustained playing for Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Neuhaus, 25, who started each of Gladbach’s first six Bundesliga games of the season, partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a challenge with Freiburg’s Daniel-Kofi Kyereh on September 11.

An operation is not necessary, but recovery still takes time.

“I hope he can come back quickly, but we have to be careful with him,” Gladbach coach Daniel Farke said ahead of Saturday’s game against Eintracht Frankfurt. “I’m not counting on him before the World Cup break.”

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Neuhaus said he had spoken to Germany coach Hansi Flick about missing the tournament “even though it was already clear to me”.

Neuhaus was part of Germany’s Euro 2022 squad and made 10 international appearances.

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ADAMS Calm down

Tyler Adams’ absence from the team sheet for Leeds’ Premier League game against Fulham on Sunday raised immediate concerns for the United States.

After all, the midfielder has played the full 90 minutes in each of Leeds’ first 10 league games.

Leeds manager Jesse Marsch tried to play down the seriousness of the undisclosed injury Adams suffered against Leicester on Thursday.

“Hopefully this won’t last more than a few days,” Marsch said.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup

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