Defending champion France arrives in Qatar for World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Injury-hit France arrived in Qatar on Wednesday to begin the defense of its World Cup title, with coach Didier Deschamps leading the squad off the plane after it landed.

The squad was to take part in stretching exercises before having dinner.

Forward Randal Kolo Muani, who was called up on Wednesday morning to replace the injured Christopher Nkunku, was expected to join the squad on Thursday evening.

Nkunku injured his left knee following a tackle from midfielder Eduardo Camavinga moments before the end of Tuesday evening’s final training session in France.

Deschamps is without injured midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who helped France win the World Cup four years ago. Central defender Presnel Kimpembe pulled out Monday after failing to sufficiently recover from a six-week layoff following a hamstring injury.

Deschamps has an anxious wait to see if his best central defender, Raphael Varane, is fit to face Australia on Nov. 22 — exactly a month after he limped off for Manchester United with a hamstring injury.

There’s also some doubt about Karim Benzema’s fitness. Since winning the Ballon d’Or last month, Benzema has played fewer than 30 minutes for Real Madrid, coming off the bench in a Champions League game.

France starts its title defense against Australia on Nov. 22 at Al Janoub Stadium, then faces Denmark before completing its Group D matches against Tunisia on Nov. 30.

No team has successfully defended its World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.

When Les Bleus came into the 2002 tournament as defending champions they went out in the group stage.

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

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