PARIS (AP) — Karim Benzema was left out of France's preliminary World Cup squad on Tuesday, with coach Raymond Domenech saying it's because of the Real Madrid striker's unimpressive season, not any alleged involvement in a sex scandal.
Benzema has often been left on the bench and has scored only eight goals in the Spanish league this season after costing Madrid $44.4 million in 2009.
Benzema has been linked in the French media with an underage sex scandal involving an escort. Franck Ribery and Sidney Govou have also been linked, but were included in the 30-man squad, along with Barcelona forward Thierry Henry.
"To me this is not a concern," Domenech said. "I'm only thinking about football and about what the players want to give on the pitch."
Domenech said Benzema had a difficult year at Madrid, but that he would quickly bounce back.
"He is a young player and he still can dream," Domenech said. "I hope he will fight to come back to the team soon."
Veteran midfielder Patrick Vieira also didn't make the cut. Vieira, a former Arsenal player who has made 107 international appearances, returned to the Premier League with Manchester City from Inter Milan in January in a bid to regain his spot, but failed to impress Domenech.
"I respect his choice," said Vieira, who has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. "I would have accepted it more easily if he'd called me yesterday."
Domenech, who earlier said he would announce a final 23-man squad as soon as Tuesday, changed his mind and opted for the larger group. Domenech has until June 1 to cut the squad down to 23 players for the tournament in South Africa.
Instead of Benzema, Domenech selected Toulouse striker Andre-Pierre Gignac and in-form Djibril Cisse, who scored 29 goals this season with Panathinaikos.
Cisse missed the 2006 World Cup after breaking his leg in a warm-up match and didn't make the France team for the 2008 European Championship.
Among the players selected, five have never played for France: goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso, defenders Marc Planus and Adil Rami, midfielder Yann M'Vila and winger Mathieu Valbuena.
Valbuena had a superb season with Marseille, winning the French league title and the League Cup.
"There is a team and there are those who will come alongside," said Domenech. "They have to bring something extra."
Domenech admitted he had concerns with William Gallas' fitness and said he will take the Arsenal player to the World Cup only if he recovers from a calf injury.
"If William is not fit, he will go home."
Two years ago, Domenech called up Vieira for the European Championship, but the former France captain, hampered by a knee injury at the time, didn't play a single match as France crashed out at the group stage.
"Only the players who are fit enough to play will come with us," Domenech said.
France players will gather in the French Alps resort of Tignes on May 18. Following a friendly against Costa Rica on May 26, the team will travel to Tunisia for a training camp and will play Tunisia on May 30.
France, which reached the World Cup when it beat Ireland in a two-leg playoff with Henry's handball assist for the decisive goal, will then fly to Reunion island in the Indian Ocean to face China in June.
France will start its World Cup campaign against Uruguay on June 11.
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Mickael Landreau (Lille), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona, Spain), Gael Clichy (Arsenal, England), Patrice Evra (Manchester United, England), Rod Fanni (Rennes), William Gallas (Arsenal, England), Marc Planus (Bordeaux), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal, England), Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla, Spain) .
Midfielders: Abou Diaby (Arsenal, England), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid, Spain), Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Florent Malouda (Chelsea, England), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon).
Forwards: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea, England), Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseille), Jimmy Briand (Rennes), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos, Greece), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Barcelona, Spain),Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich, Germany), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).