France camp in chaos with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate latest to be hit by virus

Raphael Varane - France camp in chaos with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate among ill players - James Williamson/Getty Images
Raphael Varane - France camp in chaos with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate among ill players - James Williamson/Getty Images

France are fighting a virus that has swept through their squad ahead of the World Cup final against Argentina.

Raphaël Varane and Ibrahima Konaté fell ill on Friday morning, both having started the semi-final against Morocco, and are struggling to be fully fit for Sunday’s game.

Manchester United’s Varane and Liverpool’s Konaté have been isolating in their rooms with France imposing social distancing measures at their team hotel to try and limit the impact of the virus.

Another defender, Dayot Upamecano, and midfielder Adrien Rabiot, went down with the illness suffering from flu-like symptoms, headaches and upset stomachs, and missed the semi-final. Kingsley Coman has also been sick.

However, France captain Hugo Lloris believes "adrenaline and excitement" of a World Cup final will ensure all his team-mates are fit to play.

"We are going to try and do our best in spite of the circumstances," he said. "I think thanks to the adrenaline and the excitement we will feel we will all be fit enough and ready to do whatever we can to win this last battle.

"In the past we have proved that French teams who have been successful have always based that success on a strong team spirit.

"So we try to draw from that, there is a very good feeling in the camp since the beginning of the tournament and there is no reason why that shouldn't be the same again tomorrow.

"You're never really prepared for that type of thing but we are trying to get ready for this match the best we can, these are things for which we weren't necessarily prepared but we remain focused and of course we are very excited to play in a World Cup final."

There have been suggestions that the illness was picked up during the quarter-final against England with France’s staff trying to work out a timeline and its origin. But there is no evidence to support this.

The more likely explanation is that the bug has been contracted in the way that many people have fallen ill in Qatar during the tournament.

 Ibrahima Konate - James Williamson/Getty Images
Ibrahima Konate - James Williamson/Getty Images

Air-conditioning in stadiums, hotels and training facilities has been blamed in some quarters while earlier in the World Cup players, including the Brazil squad and, in particular United winger Antony, complained of sore throats and coughs.

Many visitors to Qatar have struggled with Middle East respiratory syndrome which can cause flu symptoms. Temperatures in Doha have also dropped significantly in recent days which is also thought to have been a factor.

France coach Didier Deschamps confirmed: “Coman has a fever this morning. We have had a few cases of flu-like symptoms. We are trying to be careful so that it does not spread.”

Deschamps now faces an anxious wait to see who is fit and whether any more of his players are affected by the virus as they attempt to become the first country to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.

If they succeed they will end Lionel Messi’s dream to finally win the World Cup with the 35-year-old having already announced that this 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’s being careful. The doctors have put in place a hygiene system to avoid the virus spreading. The sick players are in their rooms. We’re washing our hands all the time, we're using sanitising gel, we’re trying to keep the social distancing. We’re very strict about these rules.”

His team-mate Ousmane Dembélé added: “We’re not scared of the virus. Dayot and Adrien had a headache, but they have tea, ginger and honey and that’s helping them a lot. I hope everyone will be fully fit for Sunday.”

Upamecano and Rabiot resume training

Upamecano and Rabiot were able to take part in training on Friday ahead of Sunday’s final with Varane, Konaté and Coman isolating. Théo Hernández, with a sore knee and Aurélien Tchouaméni, with a hip issue, were also absent. Hernández, in particular, is believed to be a doubt for the final at the Lusail Iconic Stadium having suffered two blows to his knee against Morocco.

France have imposed extra measures including social distances, greater sanitisation and ordering workers at the five-star Al-Messila Luxury Collection Resort & Spa hotel to wear masks. The players are also wearing masks when they meet indoors.

There is no Covid testing taking place – it has not been insisted upon by Fifa throughout this tournament – because, it was hoped, players would be protected by staying within a bubble.

No evidence for rumour France were infected by England

The theory that the virus was contracted through contact with the England players – Declan Rice had missed training for a day through illness but was not suffering from the same symptoms – spread after the quarter-final last Saturday.

It was questioned why the Football Association asked for journalists in the mixed zone – where they talk to players – to wear masks but that was not a special request. As a precaution the FA insisted on that throughout the tournament including at their training ground when interviews took place.

If Varane and Konaté are unfit it will leave France without two of their main three centre-backs with the third, Upamecano, only just recovering from the virus and so possibly having not recovered his strength.

It will be hard to gauge how fit he will be and it all adds up to far from ideal preparation for Deschamps.

There will also be concern from their clubs at players performing when they have only just recovered from a virus or are still affected by it.

Meanwhile Karim Benzema is not expected to join up with the France squad. He pulled out injured prior to the tournament but, in theory, could return having played a friendly match for Real Madrid during the week. But Benzema is not due to fly back to Qatar.