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.
The -man squad to face the Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa in Marseille and Lille.
— French Team (@FrenchTeam) March 17, 2022
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).
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