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SAINT-DENIS, France: Just two months before France begin their World Cup defence, the mood around the team stands in stark contrast to the celebrations that followed their win over Croatia in the World Cup final. 2018.

Clouds have gathered over coach Didier Deschamps and his squad as key players struggle with injuries and personal issues.

Meanwhile, the French Football Federation (FFF) is grappling with image rights to its biggest star and its president faces accusations of inappropriate behavior.

All of this threatens to derail France’s campaign in Qatar.

More immediately, they enter their final matches before the World Cup this week against Austria and Denmark in the UEFA Nations League with a depleted squad.

Paul Pogba, scorer in the 4-2 win over Croatia in 2018, is among the players ruled out.

As the Juventus star struggles to recover from knee surgery, he has filed a complaint with Italian prosecutors claiming he was the target of a 13 million euro (13 million of dollars).

Pogba’s brother Mathias is one of five people charged and detained in the case.

Paul Pogba reportedly told investigators that he was actually kidnapped by childhood acquaintances and threatened by two men in balaclavas carrying assault rifles, who accused him of not helping them financially.

The former Manchester United midfielder also said the blackmailers wanted to discredit him by claiming he had a wizard put a spell on fellow 2018 World Cup hero Kylian Mbappe.

“It’s his word against his brother’s. I will trust my team-mate,” Mbappe recently said of Pogba and these claims.

“I think it’s also in the interest of the national team with a big tournament coming up.”

Mbappe himself is embroiled in a line with the FFF which risks damaging team morale.

On Monday, their meeting at the Chateau de Clairefontaine, an hour’s drive from Paris, was overshadowed by Mbappe’s refusal to take part in a photoshoot due to the FFF’s reluctance to change an image rights agreement. players.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar boycotted a shoot before, and on Monday the federation reacted quickly, promising to “review the agreement as soon as possible”.

Mbappe’s representatives have insisted that the case ‘obviously does not call into question his full commitment and determination to contribute to the collective success of the national team’.

Meanwhile, the 80-year-old veteran FFF president is in the crosshairs.

Noël Le Graët was called last week to a meeting with the country’s sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castera. The government then announced that it was launching an audit of the federation.

It came after So Foot magazine published accusations that the FFF suffered from organizational problems and some former employees alleged they had been treated improperly.

The federation has taken legal action against the magazine.

“It’s not the most serene atmosphere I’ve known,” admitted Deschamps. “But it’s not destabilizing for me. My staff and I are focused on what’s happening on the pitch.

Nevertheless, his team will be without Hugo Lloris, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema, as well as Pogba, for the next matches.

Only five players from the 2018 final are involved, including recalled veteran Olivier Giroud.

Among the other members of the 2018 squad, Benjamin Mendy is on trial in England for multiple alleged sex offenses that could end his career.

Mendy last played for France in November 2019. Les Bleus came out of Euro 2020 against Switzerland in the round of 16 but bounced back to win the Nations League last year.

This latest win showed the benefits of recalling Benzema – himself recently given a suspended sentence for aiding and abetting a team-mate blackmail.

The Real Madrid star is missing with a thigh injury but the absences couldn’t be a bad thing, forcing Deschamps to face emerging stars such as William Saliba, Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Christopher Nkunku.

Whoever features this week, France needs results.

They will be relegated from their Nations League group with a loss to Austria on Thursday.

Even if they win, they might need three points against Denmark, one of their next World Cup opponents.

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