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Champions France, favourites Argentina arrive in Qatar for World Cup

Injury-hit France have arrived in Qatar to begin the defence of their World Cup title, with coach Didier Deschamps leading the squad off the plane after it landed, and separately, Argentina and superstar Lionel Messi arrived in Doha just hours after a 5-0 warm-up victory over UAE in Abu Dhabi.

French squad was to take part in stretching exercises before having dinner on Wednesday. 

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 on Monday after failing to recover sufficiently 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 November 22 — exactly a month after he limped off for Manchester United with a hamstring injury.

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Doubts over Karim Benzema

Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who has missed a series of games for Real Madrid this season because of injury, is set for his first World Cup appearance since 2014.

However, there’s some doubt about 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 defence against Australia on November 22 at Al Janoub Stadium, then faces Denmark before completing its Group D matches against Tunisia on November 30.

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

Messi on team’s chances

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi, 35, has a sackful of trophies but the tournament in Qatar is likely to be his final chance to equal the achievement of fellow Argentinian great Diego Maradona in leading his country to World Cup glory.

He landed with the Argentina squad in the Qatari capital Doha at 2:30 am (2330 GMT, Wednesday) from Abu Dhabi, where they had beaten the United Arab Emirates 5-0 on Wednesday in a friendly in which Messi scored.

One of the favourites going into this year’s World Cup, the South Americans will begin their campaign on Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Group C, which also includes Mexico and Poland.

The 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners extended their unbeaten run to 36 matches as Messi scored his 91st international goal.

Messi was cautious about the team’s chances in Qatar, even though they are among the favourites.

“We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we think about going little by little. We know that World Cup groups are not easy,” the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner said in an interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation.

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