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France lose Kurzawa for crucial qualifiers

Paris (AFP) – France saw Layvin Kurzawa pull out of the squad for their final 2018 World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday with a knee injury suffered in training, joining fellow defenders Benjamin Mendy and Laurent Koscielny on the sidelines.

The Paris Saint-Germain left-back has sprained knee ligaments, leaving France with defensive troubles for their matches in Bulgaria on Saturday and against Belarus at the Stade de France three days later.

Marseille defender Jordan Amavi, 23, has been called up as a replacement.

Kurzawa was named in the squad despite being the recent victim of a blackmail plot involving a video of the 25-year-old mocking France coach Didier Deschamps, although the footage has not been made public.

Four men aged between 25 and 30 were arrested and charged with the foiled attempt to blackmail Kurzawa for 200,000 euros ($239,000) during the summer.

The French football federation said Kurzawa picked up the injury in a clash with Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud.

Barcelona left-back Lucas Digne is now likely to start the two games, which France need to win to be sure of automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Manchester City full-back Mendy has a serious knee injury and could be out for the rest of the season, while Arsenal centre-back Koscielny has an Achilles problem.

Deschamps is also without Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele.

France top Group A with 17 points, one ahead of Sweden, while the Netherlands are third on 13 ahead of Bulgaria (12), Belarus and Luxembourg (both five).

The group winner qualifies automatically, while the runners-up will likely face a play-off.

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