France sickness before World Cup final explained: Who’s ill? Who’s a doubt? And what’s the cause?


Didier Deschamps would have liked to have spent the last two days perfecting a plan to contain Lionel Messi in Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Argentina. Instead, he has been busy answering questions on France’s badly-timed sickness outbreak.

France are not the only team to have been hit by a sickness bug while in Qatar. Brazil’s Antony blamed the air conditioning for his cold, while Switzerland coach Murat Yakin pointed to illness for his side’s 6-1 knockout defeat by Portugal.

But the bug impacting the world champions has been the most pervasive — and most commented upon.

How serious is it? How many players are in danger of missing the biggest match in football? And could it really be something colloquially known as ‘camel flu’?

It is important to note that the France Football Federation have shared precious few details on the issue. And many of the more lurid rumours about the virus can be quickly disproven. With that in mind, we break down one of the biggest stories of the tournament.



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Who has been sick?

France have been without a number of key players at this World Cup. Lucas Hernandez and Karim Benzema were injured in Qatar, while N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Wesley Fofana, Mike Maignan, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku were injured before the tournament.

France were then hit by the sickness bug some time after their 2-1 victory over England on December 10.

Three days later, two players who started that game — defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot — missed training because they felt unwell. Neither man played in the subsequent 2-0 semi-final victory over Morocco.

On Thursday, Deschamps said Kingsley Coman felt unwell. And, before the final against Argentina, France confirmed that Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate had fallen victim to the bug.

Who missed training on Friday?

Five players but not the five mentioned above.

Upamecano and Rabiot felt well enough to return to training. But Coman, Varane and Konate were all forced to stay away from the main group and train separately.

Theo Hernandez and Aurelien Tchouameni were also absent, but not because of sickness. Hernandez suffered a blow to his knee in the win over Morocco so trained individually. Tchouameni, who has started all of France’s games, is nursing a minor hip injury.

Tchouameni is nursing a minor injury (Photo: Getty Images)

Tchouameni is nursing a minor injury (Photo: Getty Images)

Who is unavailable for the final?

It’s not clear. France have been understandably vague on details, in an attempt to avoid handing Argentina a tactical advantage.

Deschamps insisted on Wednesday that Upamecano and Rabiot would be fit to play. Both players returning to training on Friday would indicate that they are in contention.

Less is known about Coman, Varane and Konate. But they have precious little time to regain full match fitness and it is instructive that Upamecano or Rabiot played against Morocco having missed training sessions — although Upamecano was fit enough to be on the bench.

Some reports in the French media late on Friday night said that Coman was close to a return, however.

Have France changed their protocols?

Yes. They have essentially reverted to a series of measures that became commonplace during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journalists who interview France players at the tournament are now required to wear face masks. “We are all trying to be careful so that it doesn’t spread,” Deschamps explained after the Morocco win.

The Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele later added: “We’re not worried. We’re just taking precautions. The first day, when Dayot had the virus, he stayed in his room as a precaution. Afterwards he was integrated into the group.”

He also said he had been making “ginger and honey tea” for his poorly team-mates. Which is sweet of him, at the very least.



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What are they suffering from, exactly?

It’s still not clear.

Deschamps initially said Upamecano and Rabiot had shown “flu-like symptoms”. He later said that Coman had been suffering from a “fever”.

“In Doha, temperatures have fallen a little bit, you have air conditioning which is on all the time,” Deschamps said. “We’ve had a few cases of flu-like symptoms. 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.”

Dembele has described the germ as a “virus” and Randal Kolo Muani, who scored France’s second goal against Morocco with his first touch, told reporters: “It’s a small bug, which has spread, but there’s nothing serious. They’ll be on their feet on Sunday.”

A French press officer was quick to add, however: “As you know, Randal is not a doctor.”

What’s this about MERS?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a coronavirus, like COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States: “Most MERS patients developed severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. About three or four out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.”

On December 11, around the time Upamecano and Rabiot first fell ill, a number of English-language media outlets reported that the UK Health Security Agency had alerted doctors across the UK that fans returning from Qatar could be carrying the virus.

This briefing note has not been published publicly, however. And it is unclear whether any cases of MERS have been diagnosed in people who have recently visited Qatar.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, said the following on December 14:

And what about the air conditioning?

The air conditioning systems used inside some of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums have been blamed for making players ill.

Seven of the tournament’s eight stadiums cool the air at field level while interiors of buildings and transport in Qatar are routinely air-conditioned due to the nation’s high temperatures.

The Manchester United forward Antony told ESPN Brazil that he believed the air conditioning had made him unwell during the early stages of the World Cup. “It was a bit difficult,” he said. “I ended up having a bad feeling there for a few days that complicated me a bit.

“It was more of a sickness, throat. It was the air conditioning (in the stadiums). Not only me, but other players also had a cough and a bad throat.”

This week, Deschamps suggested the air conditioning at the team’s hotel could have contributed to the outbreak of sickness.

“The air conditioning is on all the time and so we have had a few cases of flu-like symptoms but we will try to avoid it spreading,” he said.

“The players put in so much effort on the pitch and so their immune systems suffer. Your body is weakened and you are more prone to getting infected.”

Antony complained of feeling unwell in Qatar (Photo: Getty Images)

Antony complained of feeling unwell in Qatar (Photo: Getty Images)

Could the World Cup final be postponed?

FIFA would do everything in its power to avoid moving the biggest match in all sports and, with the vast majority of France’s players training as planned on Friday, it seems that there is a close to zero chance of the game being postponed.



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(Photo: Getty Images)


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