PARIS, France, Aug 25 – Lyon duo Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir have been recalled to the France squad as the Euro 2016 runners-up begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Belarus next month.
Lacazette was not included by coach Didier Deschamps for the European Championship despite finishing last season in prolific form but he could no longer be ignored after netting five times in Lyon’s opening two Ligue 1 matches this season.
Fekir has not played for France since suffering a serious knee injury in a friendly in Portugal almost a year ago.
“He is not at his best yet, like before his injury, but I think he has been playing well,” said Deschamps of his decision to recall Fekir, France’s young player of the year in 2014/15.
There are a total of seven changes to the France squad from that which made it to the Euro 2016 final, losing 1-0 after extra time to Portugal at the Stade de France on July 10.
Goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, of Tottenham Hotspur, is injured so Alphonse Areola of Paris Saint-Germain is called up.
Manchester United’s Morgan Schneiderlin, Lyon’s Christophe Jallet and Manchester City duo Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna are all dropped while Kingsley Coman of Bayern Munich is injured.
However, the most notable absence is that of Patrice Evra, the 35-year-old Juventus left-back who has won a total of 80 caps.
Full-backs Layvin Kurzawa of PSG, Djibril Sidibe of Monaco and Sebastien Corchia of Lille are all included, though, and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane is back after injury ruled him out of the Euros.
Of Evra’s absence, Deschamps said: “I need to look forward to a World Cup that will be held in two years.
“He has his age. It’s up to him to maintain the same level of performance he has now. But I thought it was important to give playing time and responsibility to younger players.”
Also missing is Karim Benzema, despite the Real Madrid striker being, in theory, available for selection again after his exclusion for the Euros.
Sidelined for his involvement in a blackmail scandal involving team-mate Mathieu Valbuena and a sex-tape last year, Benzema has been struggling for fitness at the start of the new season.
“Honestly, even if he had been available today, I wouldn’t have included him because I don’t think it’s the right moment for him to come back,” Deschamps added.
Les Bleus will face Italy in a friendly in Bari next Thursday, September 1, before travelling to take on Belarus in Borisov in their opening World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, September 6.
France will also come up against the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria and Luxembourg in qualifying Group A.
France squad to face Italy and Belarus:
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain), Benoit Costil (Rennes), Steve Mandanda (Crystal Palace/ENG)
Defenders: Sebastien Corchia (Lille), Lucas Digne (Barcelona/ESP), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal/ENG), Layvin Kurzawa (Paris Saint-Germain), Adil Rami (Sevilla/ESP), Djibril Sidibe (Monaco), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona/ESP), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid/ESP)
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace/ENG), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea/ENG), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Dimitri Payet (West Ham United/ENG), Paul Pogba (Manchester United/ENG), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle United/ENG)
Forwards: Nabil Fekir (Lyon), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres/MEX), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal/ENG), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon), Anthony Martial (Manchester United/ENG)