France are battling a virus that swept through their squad ahead of the World Cup final against Argentina.
Raphaël Varane and Ibrahima Konaté fell ill on Friday morning, both holders of the semi-final against Morocco, and are struggling to be in good shape for Sunday’s match.
Manchester United’s Varane and Liverpool’s Konaté have self-isolated in their rooms, with France imposing social distancing measures at their team hotel in an attempt to limit the impact of the virus.
Another defender, Dayot Upamecano, and midfielder Adrien Rabiot, fell ill with flu-like symptoms, headaches and stomach aches, and missed the semi-final. Kingsley Coman was also ill.
It has even been suggested that the disease was contracted during the quarter-final against England, with French staff trying to work out a timeline and its origin. But there is no evidence to support this.
The most likely explanation is that the bug was contracted as many people fell ill in Qatar during the tournament.
Air conditioning in stadiums, hotels and training centers has been questioned in some quarters as earlier in the World Cup players, including the Brazil squad and, in particular, the winger of United Antony, complained of sore throat and cough.
Many visitors to Qatar have battled Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which can cause flu symptoms. Temperatures in Doha have also dropped significantly in recent days, which would also have been a factor.
French coach Didier Deschamps confirmed: “Coman has a fever this morning. We had a few cases of flu-like symptoms. We are trying to be careful that this does not spread.
Deschamps now faces an anxious wait to see who is fit and if any more of his players are affected by the virus as they bid to become the first country to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.
If they succeed, they will end Lionel Messi’s dream of finally winning the World Cup, with the 35-year-old having already announced it will be his last game in the competition.
Striker Randal Kolo Muani, who came off the bench to score France’s second goal on Wednesday, explained: “Everyone is watching. Doctors have implemented a hygiene system to prevent the spread of the virus. Sick players are in their rooms. We wash our hands all the time, we use disinfectant gel, we try to keep social distance. We are very strict on these rules.
His team-mate Ousmane Dembélé added: “We are not afraid of the virus. Dayot and Adrien had a headache, but they have tea, ginger and honey and it helps them a lot. I hope everyone will be in great shape for Sunday.
Upamecano and Rabiot were able to take part in training on Friday ahead of Sunday’s final with Varane, Konaté and Coman isolated. Théo Hernández, knee pain and Aurélien Tchouaméni, hip pain, were also absent. Hernández, in particular, would be a doubt for the final at the Lusail Iconic Stadium after suffering two knee blows against Morocco.
France imposed additional measures, including social distancing, greater disinfection and ordering workers at the five-star Al-Messila Luxury Collection Resort & Spa to wear masks. Players also wear masks when meeting indoors.
There is no ongoing Covid test – Fifa has not insisted on it throughout this tournament – as, it was hoped, players would be protected by remaining in a bubble.
The theory that the virus was contracted through contact with England players – Declan Rice had missed training for a day due to illness but was not suffering from the same symptoms – spread after the quarter-final of last Saturday.
It was questioned why the Football Association had asked reporters in the mixed zone – where they speak to players – to wear masks, but it was not a special request. As a precaution, the FA insisted on this throughout the tournament, including on its training ground when talks took place.
If Varane and Konaté are unfit, they will leave France without two of their top three centre-backs, with the third, Upamecano, barely recovering from the virus and therefore may not have recovered his strength.
It will be difficult to assess how fit he will be and it all adds up to a less than ideal preparation for Deschamps.
Their clubs will also worry about the performance of players when they have just recovered from a virus or are still affected by it.
Meanwhile, Karim Benzema is unlikely to join the France squad. He pulled out injured before the tournament but, in theory, could return after playing a friendly with Real Madrid during the week. But Benzema must not return to Qatar.