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Karim Benzema took to social media with a cryptic message saying he is "not interested" just two days ahead of France's World Cup final showdown with Argentina.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was ruled out of Qatar 2022 on the eve of the tournament due to a thigh injury he aggravated in training.

There had been suggestions the reigning Ballon d'Or winner could link back up with the squad having recovered from the injury and returned to training with his club.

However, asked if Benzema could make a shock return ahead of Sunday's final, France boss Didier Deschamps said: "I don't want to answer you. It's a stupid question."

Further reports from Spain on Friday claimed Benzema was unhappy to have been sent home in the first place and did not take kindly to Deschamps' latest comments.

The 34-year-old has now posted an ambiguous message on social media, simply translated as "I'm not interested", accompanied by an explosion emoji.

Former Lyon striker Benzema has scored 37 goals in 97 appearances for France.

Les Bleus are aiming to become just the third side – and first since Brazil in 1962 – to retain the World Cup trophy after beating Morocco 2-0 in the semi-finals to advance.

France's World Cup squad is calmer and more experienced than the one that won in Russia, according to Ousmane Dembele. 

Didier Deschamps' side will become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962 if they overcome Argentina in Sunday's final at Lusail Stadium.

Dembele was an unused substitute when France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 final but the Barcelona man has emerged as a key part of the team in Qatar.

Despite injuries to Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba leaving France short of key players, Dembele feels the squad is more at ease this time around.

"It's not a dream yet. We're calmer and have more experience. We want to prepare well for this final," he said at a press conference on Friday.

"It will be a great day. We are ready for this fight against a difficult opponent. Argentina are better than they were in 2018. 

"In 2018 there were more crazy people in this team. There is a very nice atmosphere in 2022 too, but it is not comparable."

With France opting against naming a replacement for Benzema after he left their camp with a thigh injury last month, reports have suggested the Ballon d'Or winner could make a shock return for Sunday's game.

Deschamps refused to comment on those suggestions on Thursday, and Dembele claimed to be in the dark regarding the striker's availability.

"I don't know. I'm not the coach," Dembele said. "I think Benzema got injured and I don't have an explanation."

Ousmane Dembele says France are "taking precautions" ahead of Sunday's World Cup final with Argentina after two more key players were struck down by illness.

Les Blues were without Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano for Wednesday's 2-0 semi-final win over Morocco due to a sickness bug in the camp.

Rabiot missed out on the squad entirely while Upamecano was an unused substitute, as was Kingsley Coman, who was also suffering from a fever on the day of the game.

Midfielder Rabiot and defender Upamecano are understood to have now recovered in time for this weekend's final at Lusail Stadium.

However, according to widespread reports, central-defensive duo Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate trained away from the team on Friday after falling ill.

Aurelien Tchouameni and Theo Hernandez are also said to have missed the full session two days out from the final as they are recovering from minor injuries.

Despite potentially losing more players to illness and injury, Dembele insists France are not overly concerned at this stage.

"It doesn't worry us," he said at a news conference on Friday. "With Dayot, after a day I went to see him with my mask on and he was much better. 

"For the players and the staff, it doesn't worry us, we are just taking precautions.

"We are not afraid of the virus. Dayot and Adrien had headaches and stomach aches. I made them honey and ginger tea. We hope everyone will be better for the final."

France are already without the likes of Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Presnel Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez and Christopher Nkunku through injury.

Les Blues are aiming to become just the third ever side to retain the trophy, while Argentina are seeking a first world crown in 36 years.

Zlatko Dalic is optimistic Luka Modric will play for Croatia at Euro 2024.

Modric won the Ballon d'Or after leading Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia four years ago, and the Real Madrid star enjoyed another fine tournament as Dalic's men reached the final four in Qatar.

However, the 37-year-old was unable to inspire his team to a semi-final victory over Argentina on Tuesday, leading to suggestions he may retire from the international game.

Modric refused to give anything away regarding his future after the defeat, and Dalic is hopeful he will stay on for at least another 18 months.

"I hope that he [Modric] will be there [at Euro 2024]," Dalic said. "I am looking forward to it.

"It is not certain that he will there be and he will personally decide how he feels. I personally feel that he will be, but it ultimately is his decision."

Croatia started their World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Morocco in Group F, and they face the African side again in Saturday's bronze-medal match.

Walid Regragui's outfit have been the surprise package of the tournament, with Dalic comparing their stunning run to Croatia's surge to the 2018 final.

"Morocco remind me of us four and a half years ago," he said. "Nobody expected them to be this high, but they got to where they are with their quality and emotions.

"From game to game, they only grew and I think we are in for a much more difficult match than the one from the opening group.

"We have full and great respect for them. They show unity and are not afraid of anyone."

Morocco captured the imagination of football fans around the world during their World Cup campaign, which saw them stun Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

They suffered a 2-0 defeat to France in the semi-final on Wednesday and boss Regragui is struggling to get excited about the third-place play-off.

"It is a little bit difficult," he said. "It is very complicated for both teams. You are so disappointed; you have just lost a semi-final and then two days later you have to go back out there.

"It is like the booby prize. I'm sorry for speaking like this. I understand it should be important, I understand it is better to finish third than fourth, but, for me, my takeaway is just that we didn't get to the final.

"Even if we did get to the final, and I finished second, I would be saying the same thing to you.

"We want to be as positive as possible, especially for our fans. Finishing third would be great for our image."

There is undoubtedly a perception the World Cup's third-place play-off is little more than an exhibition match – compared to the final, anyway.

But for Croatia and Morocco, Saturday's clash at the Khalifa International Stadium holds a great deal of significance regardless of what others might think.

Croatia were denied the chance to reach successive World Cup finals by Argentina, while Morocco put up an admirable fight against defending champions France in their 2-0 defeat.

But the fact Croatia – who clinched bronze at the 1998 World Cup – were in the 2018 final does not diminish the achievement of potentially finishing third here for coach Zlatko Dalic.

"We are sad and disappointed, but we have to gather energy to come back and be ready for the next fight for bronze," he said.

"The match on Saturday is a big final for us, not a small [game]. It's a big deal if we get the bronze.

"We have to refresh the team and put healthy players in the team because a grand final is ahead of us.

"Morocco is the biggest surprise of the World Cup. They've got national backing, unity, compactness. They knocked out Belgium, Spain and Portugal. They deserve all the respect."

Of course, these two tussled in a rather drab goalless group-stage draw, when Croatia were restricted to just five shots, their fewest ever in a World Cup game.

That encounter was something of a foreshadowing: Croatia have not been one of the tournament's great entertainers.

Morocco caused France plenty of problems and will fancy their chances of worrying Croatia on Saturday, particularly given Dalic's side have faced more shots (75) than any other team at the tournament.

The Atlas Lions have certainly benefited from a degree of pragmatism as well, with one more clean sheet enough for them to become only the eighth team in tournament history to keep five in one World Cup.

Of course, Walid Regragui insisted his team want to finish third, but there's also a degree of their job being done as the head coach acknowledged the gravity of their achievement in becoming Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists

"I will give opportunities to those who did not participate, and we will try to clinch the third place," Regragui told reporters.

"We realise that we made a great achievement already. We know that from the media, social media, and on TV, we saw the pictures, and we saw that everyone was proud of us in our country.

"We're disappointed for the Moroccan people, we wanted to keep the dream alive, but we're pleased with what we've achieved.

"We felt that we could have gone even further but these small details help real champions, which we saw [against France], of course.

"My players gave everything and they've gone as far as they could. I really wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can't win a World Cup with miracles, you need to do it through hard work."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Mateo Kovacic

Dalic is expected to make a few changes: Marcelo Brozovic is an injury doubt; Luka Modric could be given a breather. All three of their regular midfield probably won't come out of the side, meaning Kovacic is surely the likeliest to start.

Kovacic was one of Croatia's better players against Argentina, with his physicality and ball carrying standing out as the Valtreni tried to cope with the feisty Argentinians. He attempted six dribbles, completing four, and engaged in 15 duels, winning 10 – all of those were highs for his team.

 

Morocco – Azzedine Ounahi

Again, Regragui will alter his team a bit, so it is difficult to know who's going to play, but all the neutrals will be hoping to get another glimpse of Ounahi.

An elegant central midfielder, the 22-year-old has been one of the tournament's breakthrough stars, with his composure in possession really making him stand out. He has completed 77 per cent of his take-on attempts in the World Cup (10/13), which is the highest rate of any player to try at least 10.

 

PREDICTION

Morocco's win probability of 30.9 per cent for this is a reasonable increase on the 24.8 per cent Stats Perform's AI model gave them ahead of the matchday one meeting.

Nevertheless, Croatia remain the favourites, with the supercomputer putting their win likelihood at 43.1 per cent.

The draw is rated at 26 per cent, but it's worth noting that none of the 19 previous third place play-off matches at the World Cup have gone to penalties, while only one has been settled in extra time (France v Belgium in 1986).

Benfica boss Roger Schmidt has no fears about losing World Cup stars Enzo Fernandez and Goncalo Ramos.

Head coach Schmidt said the youngsters, both 21, and veteran defender Nicolas Otamendi, are integral to his plans to deliver success in Lisbon.

Fernandez and Otamendi are part of the Argentina squad preparing for Sunday's World Cup final against France, when both could be starters.

That has put them in the spotlight, and midfielder Fernandez has been linked with a host of teams, including Liverpool.

Benfica sold striker Darwin Nunez to the Reds in the last transfer window, and Schmidt is determined to retain the best of the talent that has remained at the club.

"We are very happy for them and they are happy to play at Benfica. We need players like them," Schmidt told a press conference on Friday, according to O Jogo.

"We are not afraid that they will leave. We will not give anyone away; we need them to be champions."

Benfica sit top of the Primeira Liga after accruing 12 wins from their opening 13 games in what is Schmidt's first season in charge.

Looking at his Argentine pair, Schmidt said he was "happy for them" to be playing a World Cup final, while domestic games resume in Portugal.

Benfica have a Taca da Liga round-robin game against Moreirense on Saturday, which could see Portugal striker Ramos involved.

He made his name known to a wide audience by scoring a hat-trick against Switzerland in Portugal's 6-1 victory at the last-16 stage at the World Cup, having come into the team in place of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Looking at the finals in Qatar, Schmidt said: "Otamendi has played at a fantastic level. I think Goncalo and Enzo have been playing very well throughout the season.

"Enzo took advantage of opportunities with Argentina, he didn't begin in the starting line-up. Goncalo Ramos too, with Portugal, scored three goals. It shows that they have a lot of confidence."

German coach Schmidt also acknowledged he will be siding with Argentina in the final, out of duty to his players.

"I have all the respect for France, but there are two of our players in Argentina, of course I'll support them," he said. "To be honest, I'm also a [Lionel] Messi fan, he continues to be the best in the world for me and he's shown it."

Cristiano Ronaldo may decide to end his playing career after seeing his dream of winning the World Cup dashed, says his former Manchester United team-mate Patrice Evra.

Ronaldo was used only as a substitute for the final two games of Portugal's campaign in Qatar, which ended with a surprise 1-0 defeat to Morocco in the last eight.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner became the first player to score in five different editions of the World Cup last month, but all eight of his goals at the tournament have come in the group stage.

Ronaldo has been strongly linked with Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr since his United contract was terminated last month, but Evra believes he may hang up his boots.

"When I talked to him, we didn't talk especially about what he's going to do next. I don't know. I don't know if Ronaldo will retire," Evra told Sky Sports News on Friday.

"Sometimes at the end of your career you think, 'okay, I think it's time to stop', especially when you're not in the starting eleven with your national team. 

"Ronaldo wanted to play and be fit to win the World Cup with his country, this was his dream. Now he doesn't have that dream, I don't talk for Cristiano, but I won't be surprised if he retires. 

"Now, everything Ronaldo does, he's a bad person and a bad player or whatever, so I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to retire."

 

Ronaldo's great rival Lionel Messi has the chance to cap his career by lifting the World Cup for the first time on Sunday, having helped Argentina to the final with a series of talismanic displays.

Some have suggested Messi must win the World Cup to be considered the greatest player to have played the sport, but Evra feels the Argentina captain has already secured that status – alongside Ronaldo.

"He needs to win this World Cup? No. Him and Ronaldo are already the greatest," Evra added.

"Why does Messi need to win this World Cup? I think this is for the Argentina players to put him on the same level as Diego Maradona.

"Even when they say Messi does not have a good record with Argentina, he already played six finals with them. The debate is not whether Messi can be the greatest, he's already the greatest.

"But guys, let's not forget, Messi is the greatest and Ronaldo is the greatest, too. People have different opinions, and Ronaldo is there.

"It doesn't matter if he doesn't play the final, he's still the greatest. We have to respect every different opinion."

Spain's third-highest appearance maker Sergio Busquets has announced his retirement from international football.

The 34-year-old captained Spain in each of their four games at the World Cup in Qatar, missing a penalty in the shootout as Luis Enrique's side were knocked out by Morocco at the last-16 stage.

Busquets made his debut for La Roja against Turkey in April 2009 and went on to make 143 appearances, behind only Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos in the country's history.

The Barcelona midfielder, who scored two international goals, was an integral part of the Spain squads that won the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship two years later.

"I would like to thank all the people who have accompanied me on this long journey," he wrote on Instagram. 

"From Vicente del Bosque who gave me the opportunity to start, to Luis Enrique for making me enjoy it until the last second.

"I also thank Julen Lopetegui, Fernando Hierro and Robert Moreno for their trust, as well as all their staff.

"And, of course, to each and every one of my team-mates, with whom I have struggled to try to take the team where it deserved, with more or less success but always giving everything and with the greatest of pride.

"It has been an honour to represent my country and take it to the top.

"To be a World and European champion, to be captain and to play so many games, with greater or lesser success but always giving everything and contributing my grain of sand so that everything went the right way."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino confirmed the governing body is proceeding with plans for a 32-team Club World Cup, while the format of the next World Cup is to be revisited.

Infantino was addressing the media in Doha on Friday for the first time since his extraordinary press conference at the start of Qatar 2022.

He opted against a 45-minute opening monologue on this occasion, instead taking the opportunity to provide an update following a FIFA Council meeting earlier in the day.

During that meeting, plans were approved to push on with a previously proposed expansion to the Club World Cup.

The competition currently pits the winners of the main continental club competitions against each other every year, but the new version will feature 32 teams from across the globe and take place once every four years.

"It will be a Club World Cup of 32 teams, every four years, and the first edition will be summer of 2025," he said. "They will be the best teams in the world invited to participate."

Infantino also revealed FIFA is re-thinking its format for the next World Cup, which will be the first with 48 competing teams.

Initially FIFA planned for the tournament to consist of 16 groups of three teams; however, enlightened by the drama at the end of the first stage of Qatar 2022, Infantino suggested groups of four are likely to remain.

"I have to say, after this World Cup and the success of groups of four and looking at other competitions such as the Euros, here [four-team groups] have been incredible," he added

"I think we have to revisit or at least re-discuss the format. This is something that will certainly be on the agenda."

Speaking two days before Qatar 2022's final, Infantino summarised the tournament as a success in every way, in his opinion, praising the behaviour of supporters.

"The World Cup has been an incredible success on all fronts," said Infantino.

"The main one being the fans, the behaviour, the joyful atmosphere, the bringing of people together. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.

"When it comes to the matches, we have seen some incredibly competitive games, some surprises, some great goals.

"At the end of the day, there was on average 10 minutes played as additional time every match. This was a very fair World Cup on the pitch, no simulations, not so many yellow and red cards.

"But this shows the compliment goes to the players and coaches, who maintained their calm, and of course the referees."

The discussion over Lionel Messi's defensive work is "almost silly", according to his former coach at Paris Saint-Germain Mauricio Pochettino.

Messi's Argentina will appear in their sixth World Cup final on Sunday against France, aiming to get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 1986.

Messi will claim the World Cup appearance record outright by playing his 26th and likely final game at the tournament, while he could become the first player to record 20 goal contributions in the competition (currently 11 goals, eight assists).

The Argentina captain started the tournament slowly, with some observers criticising his work rate, but he has shone in the knockout stage.

Former Albiceleste international Pochettino, who coached Messi at PSG until his dismissal earlier this year, scoffed at those concerns and compared Messi to two icons of the game not renowned for their defensive work.

"Honestly, I think the debate about Messi's defensive work is so stale, almost silly," he wrote in The Athletic.

"You cannot pretend that [Diego] Maradona or Pele — along with Messi, the most important players in football — were focused on trying to win the ball back. He can't participate in that. He just needs the others to run for him.

"He doesn't need to press. When you have Messi, you need the other players to understand that they have to get the ball and give it to him so he can conserve his energy and then be decisive, as shown."

 

Argentina's run to the final has not been all about Messi, though, with Lionel Scaloni's side proving resolute in defence.  

They have restricted their opponents to just 5.7 shots per game – fewer than any other side. Indeed, they have not faced above 0.6 expected goals against in any of their six games so far.

Pochettino believes that defensive solidity and work ethic has been crucial in allowing Messi to flourish. 

"Of course, Argentina need Messi, but Messi needs the other 10 players to fight for him at all times," he added. "That's one of the keys to this team: they all believe that playing for Messi, they can win the World Cup.

"You can see that the players give 120 per cent to achieve this. Different players: [Rodrigo] De Paul, [Alexis] Mac Allister, [Enzo] Fernandez, [Julian] Alvarez, they give everything they have and more, and they do it for Messi.

"They give everything because it's their dream, they are so close, and when they have Messi, they know that everything is possible.

"That's the most important thing about this Argentina team, and the reason why they are in the final. It's because the players fully understand their role. When you have Messi in your team, you have to run for him.

"And when you have the ball, you have to give it to him as soon as possible so that he can create something. So, the players know what they have to do at all times: to give Messi everything he needs to be decisive."

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