France is looking to make history as the first country to win back to back World Cups since Brazil sixty years ago, but they might have to do it without their starting centre-back pairing because of a virus.
The virus has reportedly been going around the French team in the lead-up to the World Cup final against Argentina on Sunday. Raphael Varane has small symptoms of the virus and fellow defender Ibrahima Konate has not left his room after feeling unwell, sources told ESPN on Friday.
It’s nothing new for the defending champions; Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot missed the semifinal win over Morocco due to sickness on Wednesday. Manager Didier Deschamps said after the match that the team were taking precautions to stop the virus from spreading through the rest of the team.
“We’ve had a few cases of flu-like symptoms,” he explained. “We are trying to be careful so it doesn’t spread, and players have made great efforts out on the pitch and obviously their immune systems suffer.”
Clearly, that approach has not worked, as two of France’s most important defenders look to be in serious jeopardy of missing the title match. Rabiot and Upamecano have now recovered, says Deschamps, and both should play against Argentina on Sunday.
“Dayot will be fit. Since Saturday he wasn’t well for three days…had a fever, and that had an impact on his strength…Rabiot was sick, was better this afternoon but not well enough, so he stayed in the hotel. We have four days to rest, so he should be better and available for Sunday.”
Varane played every minute of France’s 2018 run to the World Cup, and has been a crucial part of the back end in this year’s iteration. The Manchester United centre-back has played for his country every year since he was introduced in 2013.
This is Konate’s first World Cup for France, but he has been instrumental in their defensive structure; they’ve allowed just five goals in six matches, and didn’t concede any to Morocco in the semifinal on Wednesday.
It’s been an impressive run for a country missing a plethora of top players at this year’s tournament, including Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema.
Brazil won back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962, and exactly sixty years later, only Lionel Messi and Argentina stand in the way of a French repeat.