PARIS (AP) — France’s World Cup ambitions were dealt a significant blow just three days before the team’s departure for Brazil, with winger Franck Ribery forced to pull out of the tournament after failing to overcome a back injury that has bothered him for several weeks.
Coach Didier Deschamps now has to rethink his whole strategy without France’s talismanic player and best attacker.
The timing was particularly cruel, as Ribery seemed to have made good progress from the injury, only to suddenly pull up in pain during an individual training session on Friday morning.
Having hoped Ribery would play a part in the friendly against Jamaica on Sunday, Deschamps has now replaced the Bayern Munich winger with Montpellier winger Remy Cabella.
“Obviously with Ribery at 100 percent we’re a better team, but we’ll try and be a good team without him,” Deschamps said. “He is unable to train for a few weeks now and even less so to play.”
Cabella was on the reserve list and has made just one substitute appearance for France. He scored 14 league goals last season.
Ribery’s absence means that Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann will likely start on the left wing, unless Deschamps decides to put Karim Benzema on the left and Olivier Giroud at center forward. However, Benzema and Giroud are both better in a central striker’s role.
Griezmann has much in common with Ribery.
He is 23 years old and broke into the side only weeks before the World Cup after some impressive club performances. Ribery was also age 23 when he broke into the France team just weeks before the 2006 World Cup, where he went on to become a star.
In another setback for Deschamps, attacking midfielder Clement Grenier was also withdrawn with a recurrence of a groin injury that has hampered him all season for Lyon.
The 23-year-old Grenier tore his right groin in training on Thursday and has been replaced by Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin, who has never played for France.
“I’m very sad for them,” Deschamps said. “I wasn’t expecting this. If they were here it’s because I was counting on them, and the signs were very positive.”
Deschamps said both players were distraught when they realized they will not be on the plane to Brazil.
“How do you think (they felt)? They’re missing out on the World Cup,” Deschamps said. “Of course there are worse things in life, but they are the first to be affected by it.”
The 31-year-old Ribery missed the previous two friendlies — a 4-0 win against Norway and a 1-1 draw against Paraguay on Sunday — but Deschamps was optimistic because Ribery had shown “positive signs of improvement” this week after increasing “the intensity of his work,” Deschamps said.
But that was when Ribery was training alone, and when he stepped up his routine in a bid to be ready to join in with his teammates, he suddenly pulled up in pain on Friday.
“The X-ray in the early afternoon confirmed the sudden worsening of his condition,” Deschamps said.
Ribery’s final appearance of the season for Bayern was as a substitute in the German Cup final win against Borussia Dortmund on May 17. He had been rested since the 4-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the return leg of their Champions League semifinal on April 29.
“He always tried to keep his spirits up, hoping that he would come back and train with us,” France midfielder Yohan Cabaye said. “But the longer it went on, the more we could see that he was struggling.”
Ribery has 16 goals in 81 appearances for France and is the team’s best attacking player. That mantle now rests with Real Madrid striker Benzema.
Ribery was third to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in voting for the world’s best player in January.
“It’s a big blow for the France team and for Didier Deschamps,” said UEFA president and former France great Michel Platini. “Franck’s a really important player, he wasn’t designated UEFA’s No.1 player of the year for nothing.”
It is particularly hard for Ribery considering how he had turned public opinion back in his favor, following a spectacular fall from grace at the last World Cup in 2010, when he was perceived to be a ringleader of France’s infamous training ground strike and banned for three matches by the French Football Federation.
Deschamps must wait for FIFA’s medical officers to validate his request to include Cabella and Schneiderlin in his World Cup list. They were set to join up with the squad at the Clairefontaine training camp late Friday.
France flies out to Brazil on Monday. It is in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.
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