Didier Deschamps and France have agreed not to discuss a new contract until after the World Cup but that does not mean Zinedine Zidane is guaranteed to take charge of Les Blues, says French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet.

Deschamps became France boss in 2012 and has since signed two contract extensions, the latter of which came after World Cup glory at Russia 2018.

The 53-year-old's current deal expires after Les Blues aim to defend their title at Qatar 2022, leading to speculation that former Real Madrid boss Zidane will be appointed after the tournament.

Le Graet suggested the appointment of Zidane has not already been pre-agreed as he placed his support behind Deschamps.

"We both agreed not to renew him until after the World Cup," Le Graet said of Deschamps to L'Equipe. "He's not mad at me. He adores me. I think he will never say anything bad about me. 

"He lost a game in the European Championship and for much of France, he should have been fired [after the last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020].

"We'll see at the end of the World Cup if he wants to renew. We will spend time in Guingamp to discuss."

When pressed for an answer as to Zidane taking charge as Deschamps' successor, Le Graet responded: "First of all, you have to be careful with what you say. Zidane showed in Madrid that he had qualities that were barely imagined. 

"In the minds of the French, he could be a successor. But that is not my goal. We'll see. If Didier and I split up, he will definitely be one of the options.

"I'm not going to say to myself: 'I hope Didier says he doesn't want to renew and I go see Zidane'. Do you see me saying today: 'It is Zidane who is going to replace Deschamps'? We'll see.

"Maybe Zidane will take charge of Paris Saint-Germain. To train the national team you have to be free. But today we will do everything possible to put Didier in the best conditions to win this World Cup."

Indeed, Zidane emerged as a favourite when reports circulated in France that Mauricio Pochettino's PSG job was under threat after Champions League elimination at the last-16 stage to Real Madrid.

Even if Zidane is available, Le Graet insists he has learnt from the mistakes of his predecessor and will not seek a new manager while Deschamps is still at the helm.

"I will never do what my predecessor [Jean-Pierre Escalettes] did, who had already signed Laurent Blanc before going to South Africa for the [2010] World Cup," he added.

"[Raymond] Domenech was already on alert. How do you expect the players to respect you when a successor has already been named? 

"It doesn't work and never will. In no case will I see another coach before having lunch with Didier after the World Cup."

Didier Deschamps highlighted Denmark's quality as he warned of the difficulties of France's 2022 World Cup draw.

World champions France were entered into Group D on Friday, alongside Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru, the United Arab Emirates or Australia.

Les Bleus also faced Denmark, Peru and Australia in the first round en route to the title in Russia four years ago and are now expected to comfortably get out of their group.

However, Deschamps was anything but complacent following the draw, well aware of the threat Denmark in particular pose.

Semi-finalists at Euro 2020, Denmark are ranked 11th in the world, with only Mexico and the Netherlands above them from pot two. Germany, widely considered the toughest opponents, are 12th.

And Kasper Hjulmand's side will get a good look at France in the Nations League at the end of this season, too.

Were France to fall into second place in their group, they would face the winners of Argentina's pool. Les Bleus beat Lionel Messi and Co. in Russia but would undoubtedly rather avoid one of the sport's great names in what seems set to be his last World Cup.

Deschamps, speaking to beIN SPORTS, said: "I do not know if this draw is perfect.

"The Danes will also have the advantage of getting to know us better after the two Nations League games this summer. And then it's not the same competition, so it's something else.

"You have to have a lot of respect for this team and especially not think that it's a given. We are talking about the 11th world nation that reached a semi-final at the last Euro. They rank higher than Germany.

"I saw that we will cross with the group of Argentina, but the most important thing is to know the schedules of the matches. We could go from 1pm to 10pm and it's not the same thing at all.

"We already know the dates, but we will wait to know the schedules."

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Didier Deschamps says those who jeered Jonathan Clauss on his full debut are not true supporters and their opinion therefore does not count.

Clauss was handed a first start for Les Blues in Tuesday's 5-0 friendly win against South Africa, four days after earning his maiden cap as a late substitute against Ivory Coast.

However, the occasion – and indeed France's emphatic victory – was somewhat overshadowed by the reaction Clauss received from a section of his country's own fans.

The 28-year-old was targeted at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, the home of club side Lens' fierce rivals Lille, and Deschamps has praised the full-back for the way he handled the boos.

"I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible, so I find it regrettable to say the least what happened," he said at his post-match news conference.

"It goes against what the France team is, but it didn't stop him from bouncing back. Those who foolishly protested with whistles, it was faded by what he was doing on the pitch."

Asked if the jeers call into question France's decision to stage friendlies away from the Stade de France, Deschamps said: "No, I don't think so.

"But the fact we're talking about it, even if it was only a few people, encourages them to do it. It must be a non-subject – there's no place for it in a stadium.

"There is a rivalry between clubs, which I understand, but here we are with the France team. 

"I ask them to do everything possible to unite the team. The other people are not supporters; they don't matter."

Clauss can be pleased with his display, having intercepted the ball more times than anyone (five), while only Adrien Rabiot won possession more often (14 compared to seven).

In an attacking sense, meanwhile, only Olivier Giroud (eight) and Kylian Mbappe (20) had more touches in the opposition box than the defender's five, level with Lucas Digne.

"He has a lot of dynamism and is able to defend," Deschamps added. "I told him not to play with the handbrake today."

Mbappe scored twice in France's routine victory and assisted Matteo Guendouzi's first international goal late on after Khuliso Mudau had been sent off for the visitors.

In doing so, Mbappe became the first player to net in five successive France matches since Karim Benzema did so between November 2013 and June 2014.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker is 25 goals short of Thierry Henry's record of 51 for France, but Deschamps insists his side are not a one-man team.

"It's not Kylian and the others, but Kylian with the others – that's important.

"His legs were on fire today. His ability to score and accelerate places him among the world's most outstanding players."

Wissam Ben Yedder was also on target for France, as was Olivier Giroud with his 48th international goal, moving him within touching distance of Henry's all-time record.

Giroud will be 36 by the time the 2022 World Cup comes around in November and Deschamps could not offer any guarantees over his long-term future in the squad.

"I've had discussions with him, as I have with many players," Deschamps said. "I don't know about the future and neither does he.

"But when he's here, he has the ability to score. His profile is well known – he's a support striker. He has this sense of the goal and is important for us even without scoring."

Raphael Varane will feel "great pride" in captaining France when they face South Africa on Tuesday in Les Bleus' final game of the March international break.

The Manchester United defender has been handed the armband for the friendly clash at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, the 28-year-old's hometown, with regular skipper Hugo Lloris sitting the game out.

Didier Deschamps' side are looking to continue their preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup at the end of the year, as they eye a successful defence of their 2018 crown.

With regular captain Lloris set to be benched in favour of Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, Varane said it would be an honour to lead out his country in his home city.

"It is a great pride," he said. "I grew up not far from here. I was born in Lille, I grew up between Lille and Lens. 

"Of course, it's a bit special."

Varane also commented upon the selection of Maignan, who has kept 11 Serie A clean sheets in an impressive debut campaign with the Rossoneri, praising the 26-year-old's leadership and character.

"He brings great explosiveness," Varane said of Maignan. "He has a great kicking game, he brings his character, he is a leader at heart.

"He keeps progressing and continues to evolve. He has a lot of talent."

The former Real Madrid defender spoke in glowing terms about Clauss' qualities, saying that his inclusion in the squad brought "a lot of joy".

"He brings a lot of freshness," Varane added. "I did my best to welcome him, to put him at ease.

"He is living an exceptional moment, and it brings a lot of joy.

"If he is there [in the France squad], he has the qualities. The desire is there, [and] he has some very interesting qualities."

Deschamps' side will be looking to maintain their excellent attacking form when they host South Africa, having scored in each of their last 19 games, the longest such run in the history of the national team.

Didier Deschamps has confirmed that Kylian Mbappe will return when France take on South Africa in Lille on Tuesday.

Mbappe missed Les Bleus' 2-1 victory against the Ivory Coast on Friday as a precaution with an ENT infection, where a late Aurelien Tchouameni goal sealed the friendly win.

However, without specifying whether it would be from the start or the bench, Deschamps has said the Paris Saint-Germain star will be back in contention for the next encounter.

When asked about Mbappe, Deschamps told Telefoot: "He is much better, he will be there on Tuesday."

The 23-year-old has 24 goals in 53 caps for France, but could face competition in the form of Christopher Nkunku, who made his international debut in Friday's win in Marseille.

The RB Leipzig forward has been in sensational form for the Bundesliga club this season, scoring 26 goals in 39 games across all competitions.

"[My debut] was an exceptional moment for me," he told reporters. "It was a committed match against a technical and physical team. I am a French international and I hope to be so for as long as possible."

Meanwhile Lens full-back Jonathan Clauss, who also made his senior international bow after being called up for the first time at the age of 29, hopes to be in contention for a place in Deschamps' World Cup squad later this year.

"We are all competitors, we all want to play extraordinary competitions, otherwise we wouldn't be here," he added. "We must not put the cart before the horse. 

"I have to keep performing if I want to be part of this group for the World Cup. I don't make that decision, but I'll make sure to do my best."

Aurelien Tchouameni experienced a "beautiful" moment in his career with his first France goal, but he is now keen to move onto his next objective. 

After establishing himself at Monaco in the 2020-21 season, Tchouameni has been producing consistently excellent displays in the heart of their midfield.

Since the start of 2021, he ranks third across all players in the top five European leagues in terms of possession won (387) and tackles won (83), while he is joint-second in terms of duels won (408).

Tchouameni was unsurprisingly drafted into the France set-up by Didier Deschamps last year, while the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid have all been credited with an interest in the 22-year-old. 

He opened his senior international account in his eighth appearance with a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 success over Ivory Coast on Friday but was keen to keep his feet on the ground. 

"It's the fruit of my labour. I hope to remain calm. It's beautiful what's happening to me, but I have goals. Scoring my first goal was one, so now we move onto something else," Tchouameni told M6. 

"The team and the staff really help me show my personality on the pitch and that's what makes me feel great on the pitch. 

"In the first half, we attacked a lot and Ivory Coast had the opportunity to break through on the counter. We tightened the screws in the second half and I don't think we even conceded a single chance. 

"At the end we were rewarded, and that's good." 

Tchouameni's winner came after Olivier Giroud cancelled out Nicolas Pepe's opener in his first France appearance since Euro 2020. 

The goal will have boosted Giroud's chances of retaining his place in Didier Deschamps' squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar later this year. 

"He did what he does with his club. He always has this quality of scoring, especially in the air. Of course, it made him happy," said Deschamps. 

"He returned to the group, which he knows well, and it was all the better for us. 

"When we have friendlies we must take advantage of them. There will be a second on Tuesday [against South Africa], so I will make changes to distribute the playing time to the maximum number of players." 

France have now won six straight games for the first time since 2016 and are undefeated in their past 19, scoring 43 goals during that run. 

Olivier Giroud has revealed he and Didier Deschamps are set for talks about the striker's future with France.

A return to favour for Giroud this week came about after Real Madrid's Karim Benzema pulled out of the squad for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa due to injury.

Veteran striker Giroud has impressed with Milan this season, but the 35-year-old's efforts had not been enough to initially persuade coach Deschamps he should be part of the current group. This late call-up shows the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year may not be out of reach for Giroud.

With 11 goals, the former Chelsea and Arsenal frontman is the joint-leading scorer across all competitions for Serie A leaders Milan.

His last appearance for France was as a substitute in the 3-3 draw with Switzerland at Euro 2020 last June, which was followed by defeat on penalties and a dispiriting last-16 exit for the pre-tournament favourites. Subsequent exclusion from Deschamps' squads mean there has been plenty to chew over.

"It was not easy, but I digested it and I think it was seen in my performance with AC Milan," Giroud told French newspaper Le Parisien. "It is planned that we will discuss my situation with the coach during the get-together."

Giroud said the call from Deschamps on Saturday to confirm he would be called in "brought me a lot of joy". He sits just five goals behind Thierry Henry in France's all-time scoring charts after netting 46 times in 110 games, and the chance to add to each tally has arisen.

France host Ivory Coast in Marseille on Friday, before tackling South Africa in Lille next Tuesday.

"I feel ready to make my contribution to the France team in the role that the coach gives me," Giroud said. "One thing is for certain: my determination to bring something to Les Blues remains intact."

Deschamps, speaking at a news conference on Monday, spoke of the difficulty that can be associated with status as a footballer, particularly if that long-held status no longer applies.

Where Giroud was once a first-choice pick, that is not now the case.

As a player, Deschamps retired on a high at the age of 31, after captaining France to Euro 2000 glory, two years on from leading the team to the World Cup.

Giroud, a 2018 World Cup winner, is playing on later into life and wants to be clear that he expects no favours, nor barriers placed in his way, based on past achievements.

"It's not because I have a status that it should create privileges or restrictions," he said. "The important thing is to have players who are 200 per cent determined towards a goal."

France head coach Didier Deschamps is focused on the present and not concerned by the future after calling up Olivier Giroud to replace Karim Benzema.

Giroud has not featured for Les Blues since their exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 last June, but the 35-year-old has come back into contention after an injury to Benzema.

The Milan striker sits just five goals behind Thierry Henry in France's all-time scoring charts after netting 46 times in 110 games.

Though Giroud was omitted from Deschamps' recent squads, he now has a chance to impress in friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

Deschamps, speaking at Monday's news conference, was keen to turn the attention away from Giroud as he insisted the former Arsenal and Chelsea forward does not have to prove himself.

"The most important thing for me is to be consistent and fair in my speech with the players, whether it's Olivier or others," he told reporters.

"Olivier is going to join us, and he doesn't have to do more or less. He was part of this team that was successful, it was also without him, and he remains selectable, as I have always said. 

"But don't ask me about the future. Of course, his presence is linked to Karim's injury. But there is no particular attention around him, he is part of the group."

Asked whether Benzema and Giroud could feature together down the line, Deschamps added: "It's not a question of relationships, there's competition, too, but it goes further than that. 

"History shows it is always a great difficulty for a player who has a status that he deserved to have, to no longer have this status. 

"It is very difficult to live with, not to say impossible. But it's human and it's not specific to Olivier. It's more complex. I did not call him to tell him that he will have 30 per cent playing time and see how he reacts. 

"He can accept anything, it's only ten days, but again, I don't want to make a case apart, and there have been quite a few in this case. 

"A player who has status needs to have an important role. I am convinced of that."

Arsenal's William Saliba, who is currently on loan at Marseille, has also been handed a late call-up after Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard withdrew.

"We have been following him for a while, I talk a lot with Sylvain Ripoll [France's Under-21 coach], who has known since the weekend, just in case," Deschamps said of Saliba. 

"The schedule meant that William was playing last night [Sunday], so I waited until after the match to make his call-up official, but what he does in the Under-23s and for his club, in a system that is not identical but similar, is interesting. 

"He is a good defender, fast, who has a good heading game, and exudes a lot of calmness in his play."

Deschamps stressed that France's upcoming friendlies are important, while he was glad to not be in the position of Portugal and Italy, who will battle for World Cup qualification in the play-offs.

"I know that many players have had very important matches before and will have very important ones after," he added. "It will be full in Marseille, full in Lille, and it is our duty to be efficient. 

"You think that these two friendlies have little value, but I know very well that we have to win them, because otherwise, they will increase in importance. 

"And I prefer to be in my place than in the place of my Italian and Portuguese counterparts. I am happy to be among the 14 nations that have already qualified [for Qatar]!"

Olivier Giroud has been handed a recall by France and a chance to put himself firmly back in Didier Deschamps' World Cup plans.

The Milan striker has not featured in a match for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

He has 46 goals for his country in 110 games, which puts him only five strikes behind Thierry Henry on the team's all-time list.

It appeared Giroud's international career might be over as coach Deschamps opted against calling him into recent squads.

However, a calf injury sustained by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, ruling him out of Sunday's game against Barcelona, has led to Giroud landing a summons to join up with France for the upcoming friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

The French Football Federation announced the news on its website, adding that the France staff wished Benzema "a swift recovery".

Deschamps spoke about Giroud after excluding him from a 23-player squad on Thursday, pointing to the 35-year-old's impressive form for Milan.

Giroud has helped Milan top Serie A, scoring eight goals in 20 games in the league, ahead of Saturday's trip to face Cagliari.

Assessing Giroud, Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

Now, though, Giroud comes into the picture once again, eight months out from the World Cup in Qatar.

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France boss Didier Deschamps insisted his decision to drop Kurt Zouma was "only a sporting choice" and not linked to an incident that saw the defender appear to attack a pet cat.

Zouma was called up for World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Finland in November but was notably absent when Deschamps named his latest squad on Thursday.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has begun the process of bringing a prosecution against the West Ham player and his brother Yoan after video footage emerged of the alleged attack on the cat in February.

Zouma has continued to be selected by West Ham boss David Moyes in spite of public outrage, although the 27-year-old has been fined "the maximum amount possible" – reported to be £250,000 – and has apologised.

Deschamps was asked about the reason for leaving Zouma out of his plans for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa, and stressed he had not taken off-field factors into account.

"I don't know if it's a strong choice," he said of Zouma's omission. "I don't know, because I haven't called him up systematically.

"In November, he came because Raphael Varane was injured. This remains a sporting choice, only sporting, as with all the choices I make.

"I've had him on the telephone and spoken with him about this affair, but I'm not going to go back over that. I've spoken about it. It remains solely a sporting choice."

Zouma started four games for France in 2021 but was often not actively involved, as Deschamps indicated.

There was also no room in France's latest 23-player group for Olivier Giroud, despite the veteran striker helping Milan lead the way in the Serie A title race.

Giroud has not featured for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

The head coach handed first call-ups to RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and Lens defender Jonathan Clauss, saying he had been impressed with their club performances and adding: "I think now is the right time to have a look at them."

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France squad: Areola (West Ham), Lloris (Tottenham), Maignan (Milan); Clauss (Lens), Digne (Aston Villa), L Hernandez (Bayern Munich), T Hernandez (Milan), Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Kounde (Sevilla), Pavard (Bayern Munich), Varane (Manchester United); Guendouzi (Marseille), Kante (Chelsea), Pogba (Manchester United), Rabiot (Juventus), Tchouameni (Monaco); Ben Yedder (Monaco), Benzema (Real Madrid), Coman (Bayern Munich), Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Nkunku (RB Leipzig).

France head coach Didier Deschamps labelled Kurt Zouma's behaviour "shocking" and "intolerable" after a video emerged of the West Ham defender abusing his cat.

The 27-year-old's actions were condemned by his club – who fined him a reported £250,000 and donated it to charity – along with the RSPCA, who took Zouma's cats into care, and several other animal welfare organisations.

Adidas also cancelled their contract with the centre-back after seeing the footage.

However, Zouma was still selected by Hammers manager David Moyes for the 1-0 Premier League win over Watford on Tuesday after the player said he was "deeply sorry" for his actions.

Deschamps also strongly criticised Zouma but refused to rule out selecting him for international duty.

"I was very surprised by Kurt," Deschamps said on France 3. "This is something that is inadmissible, intolerable, and cruelty without a name.

"These images are shocking and unbearable."

He added: "I'm not a prosecutor. I am here to make selections on different criteria.

"It's happened to me before that players who have made mistakes have not been selected for a while. I will not change my way of doing things for the next squad."

Zouma has been capped 11 times at international level and was part of France's Euro 2020 squad.

The defender has played 15 times for West Ham this season as Moyes' side push for a top-four finish in the Premier League as well as a deep run into the Europa League.

France manager Didier Deschamps has denied advising Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain and Ligue 1 at the end of the season.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid at the end of the current campaign when his contract at PSG expires, with little sign of the 22-year-old sensation signing an extension at the Parc des Princes.

In an interview with RMC Sport, Deschamps was adamant that he did not suggest that Mbappe should leave the French top flight for another country.

"It's bull***t to say that I said [Mbappe] had to leave France," he exclaimed. "I never said that, neither for him nor for anyone else.

"This is not to denigrate Ligue 1. Compared to the requirements of the France team, which is the top international level, the more they will be used to top level matches in their daily life in the championship or the European Cup and the closer they get to the level of requirement.

"This is not the case at Real [Madrid] when they play other teams in LaLiga. This is not the case for Bayern [Munich] in their league. Kylian will choose, it's his choice. It’s not a problem if he stays in Paris."

Deschamps' own contract situation was also raised, with the 53-year-old giving little away on his long-term future as the national team boss, insisting that it is a decision for French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet. Deschamps' current deal runs out after the 2022 World Cup next December.

"I don't know. In all honesty, I don't know. I don't care," he said. "It's my president who decides. The only person and last to decide is the president. He will decide. I don't have to. I have not extended yet, that's how it is.

"The most important contract is the contract of confidence. The situation is like that and I don't have a problem.

"It's a possibility to continue. Coaching is another job. I'm not going to forbid myself something. I am fulfilled as a coach.... I am at the top level with the best players and the best competitions. It has always been a possibility to continue. I do not close any doors."

The former Juventus and Monaco boss was also asked about the potential for his eventual replacement in charge of Les Bleus to be his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane, who has been heavily linked with the role since leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season.

La Graet indicated in a recent interview that 'Zizou' will be considered as a future candidate to take the reins after Deschamps.

"I took Laurent Blanc's place; someone will take my place," Deschamps added. "It will be Zizou or another. It's not the fact that I like it or not, the conditions have to be met. Zizou has a link with the France team. With him we said that he would be coach when he launched his career. If he wants to and if the conditions are met, so much the better.

"Zidane has been talking about it since 2016 and 2018. It is not the president who spoke about it. He has the right to answer. He can say what he wants, that is not a problem. Whether it is Zizou or another. I'm not going to comment on my president's words but he also said that it was inappropriate to ask about my future."

France manager Didier Deschamps has denied advising Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain and Ligue 1 at the end of the season.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid at the end of the current campaign when his contract at PSG expires, with little sign of the 22-year-old sensation signing an extension at the Parc des Princes.

In an interview with RMC Sport, Deschamps was adamant that he did not suggest that Mbappe should leave the French top flight for another country.

"It's bull***t to say that I said [Mbappe] had to leave France," he exclaimed. "I never said that, neither for him nor for anyone else.

"This is not to denigrate Ligue 1. Compared to the requirements of the France team, which is the top international level, the more they will be used to top level matches in their daily life in the championship or the European Cup and the closer they get to the level of requirement.

"This is not the case at Real [Madrid] when they play other teams in LaLiga. This is not the case for Bayern [Munich] in their league. Kylian will choose, it's his choice. It’s not a problem if he stays in Paris."

Deschamps' own contract situation was also raised, with the 53-year-old giving little away on his long-term future as the national team boss, insisting that it is a decision for French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet. Deschamps' current deal runs out after the 2022 World Cup next December.

"I don't know. In all honesty, I don't know. I don't care," he said. "It's my president who decides. The only person and last to decide is the president. He will decide. I don't have to. I have not extended yet, that's how it is.

"The most important contract is the contract of confidence. The situation is like that and I don't have a problem.

"It's a possibility to continue. Coaching is another job. I'm not going to forbid myself something. I am fulfilled as a coach.... I am at the top level with the best players and the best competitions. It has always been a possibility to continue. I do not close any doors."

The former Juventus and Monaco boss was also asked about the potential for his eventual replacement in charge of Les Bleus to be his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane, who has been heavily linked with the role since leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season.

La Graet indicated in a recent interview that 'Zizou' will be considered as a future candidate to take the reins after Deschamps.

"I took Laurent Blanc's place; someone will take my place," Deschamps added. "It will be Zizou or another. It's not the fact that I like it or not, the conditions have to be met. Zizou has a link with the France team. With him we said that he would be coach when he launched his career. If he wants to and if the conditions are met, so much the better.

"Zidane has been talking about it since 2016 and 2018. It is not the president who spoke about it. He has the right to answer. He can say what he wants, that is not a problem. Whether it is Zizou or another. I'm not going to comment on my president's words but he also said that it was inappropriate to ask about my future."

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