Euro 2016 hosts France have been plunged into turmoil just months before the tournament after they suspended striker Karim Benzema indefinitely over his alleged involvement in a sex-tape blackmail plot.
Real Madrid star Benzema, who spearheads the team’s attack and has scored 25 goals in 80 internationals, is accused of being part of an attempt to extort money from Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena earlier this year.
The 27-year-old has denied wrongdoing but was formally placed under investigation by a French judge last month and would face a minimum five-year jail term if found guilty.
French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet, who had previously supported the 27-year-old, called the decision “heart-breaking”, but added: “I have decided that he is not available for selection.”
The former Lyon player could have his ban lifted if found to be not guilty. He has been given a preliminary charge of being complicit in blackmail and taking part in a criminal conspiracy. A judge is yet to decide whether there is evidence to warrant a formal charge.
Benzema’s ban was issued just 48 hours before the Euro 2016 group stage draw is made and the countdown begins in earnest to France’s first major tournament as hosts since the 1998 World Cup.
The unavailability of the prolific forward, who scored a hat-trick as Real bulldozed Malmo 8-0 on Tuesday and was linked with a move to Arsenal in the summer, would be a major blow to the prospects of Les Bleus.