Is there a more reliable way of making sure a football team fails to live up to expectations than to label them the 'Golden Generation'?

Okay, maybe that's a little reductive as 'living up to expectations' is of course entirely dependent on context – the Czech Republic's 'Golden Generation' from 1996-2006 finished second and third at two out of three European Championship appearances. While not successful in the literal sense, most would agree it was a commendable achievement.

But for Belgium's plentiful crop, a lot more was expected than what they've achieved. While perhaps less of a disappointment than England's own 'Golden Generation', third place at a World Cup isn't going to be much of a legacy given some of the talent the Red Devils have had.

Roberto Martinez's side fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Euro 2020, with eventual winners Italy emerging 2-1 victors and Belgium left to watch the latter stages of another tournament pass them by.

At the very least, this week does offer them a chance at a first international trophy. They face France in Turin on Thursday in the second of the 2021 Nations League semi-finals.

But down the line when their best talents have retired, would the Nations League – which probably has a limited shelf-life itself if certain people at FIFA get their way over proposals for biennial World Cups – really suffice as the pinnacle of their achievements?

Red Devils awaiting replenishment

Of course, Belgium do still have time – the next World Cup is only 13 months away.

But how many would realistically consider them among the favourites? Concerns over the age of their squad are valid and, while 13 months isn't necessarily a long time, elite football has a tendency to expose and exacerbate even the slightest weakness, of which age can be an example.

Reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-final was the closest Belgium have come to winning the biggest prize in football, as they got to the last four before ultimately losing to Thursday's opponents France.

 

Martinez's starting XI in that game was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the 2018 World Cup. While that may not necessarily be shockingly old in itself, some might suggest that was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Since Russia 2018, Belgium have only got older. Now, you might be inclined to say, "Yeah, that's how aging works, genius", but football is obviously cyclical. Teams don't just age for eternity, they are refreshed and replenished.

It's difficult to say that's happening on a consistent basis with Belgium, though.

Young Lions setting the example

Gareth Southgate's England got just as far as Belgium in Russia and their squad was already rather young (26.0 years), with only Nigeria (25.9) having a younger group of players at the tournament.

The third-place play-off – when fringe players were given opportunities – aside, England's starting XI's average age only dipped below 26 once, and that was their third group game (also against Belgium) having already secured a spot in the next round.

But there were clear signs of further refreshment to Southgate's team after the tournament, with their first XI's average age not reaching 26 again for more than two years (November 2020).

 

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. Their oldest average age in that time, 30 years and 148, was during the 1-0 win over Portugal at Euro 2020.

Of course, it didn't work out too badly on that occasion, and their collective age isn't necessarily a barrier in a given game, but it does suggest Martinez has to be reliant on his older players because the next generation isn't of the same calibre.

The starting XI selected against Portugal at the Euros was the second-oldest named by any team at the tournament after Slovakia.

While key players such as Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois haven't reached 30, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard have.

So, what of the next generation?

Belgium's next hopefuls

Belgium's youngest team of 2021 – and fourth-youngest since the start of the last World Cup – was named last month (26 years, 364 days) in the 1-0 win away to Belarus.

Among the 15 players who featured, only three were 24 or younger: Dodi Lukebakio, Tielemans and Alexis Saelemaekers, who at 22 was the youngest. Zinho Vanheusden (also 22), Yari Verschaeren and Charles De Ketelaere (both 20) were unused substitutes.

Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga (21) had been in the squad, while Jeremy Doku impressed with his pace and trickery at Euro 2020 despite only turning 19 in May. These, for the time being, appear to be Belgium's next biggest hopes.

Lokonga looks set to be an interesting option in midfield. Athletic and a hard worker, his 62.2 per cent duel success was the 15th highest among outfield players in the Belgian Pro League last season, but he's also an assuring presence in possession.

 

Of the Pro League players to attempt at least 30 dribbles last term, Lokonga (41) ranked third in terms of completion percentage (72.1), while no midfielder or winger recorded more ball carries (627) than him. Among the same group, only three – two of whom were wingers – carried the ball further upfield over the course of the campaign than Lokonga (3,356.9 metres).

His former Anderlecht team-mate Verschaeren has been around for a few years now, with this impressively his fourth season in the club's first team. Last term saw him progress as a goal threat, improving from two the season before to six, but early suggestions he could be the 'next Eden Hazard' haven't really been on the money.

While Hazard has always been renowned for his dribbling, Verschaeren is a rather less conventional winger in that sense given he only attempted 1.8 per 90 minutes in 2020-21. Instead, his strength lies in link-up play, with just six players among forwards and midfielders (at least 900 minutes played) bettering his 83.5 per cent pass completion in the attacking half of the pitch.

Although his shot-ending sequence involvement average of 4.1 per 90 minutes was unspectacular, it was above average, whereas his goal-ending sequence involvement of 0.8 each game was bettered only seven.

But where Verschaeren's stock may not have risen as quickly as some expected a couple of years ago, De Ketelaere does appear to be on a good trajectory.

Capable of playing as a striker, winger or No.10, De Ketelaere has often been deemed lightweight despite his height and easily knocked off the ball. His duel success has improved to 54.6 per cent this term from 44.3 – among the worst – last season, a consequence of him bulking up somewhat, and although he continues to lack presence aerially (36.8 per cent aerial success), De Ketelaere can get by because he's a good technician.

He was important as an associative player in attack in 2020-21, as demonstrated by the fact he was involved in shot-ending sequences with a total xG (expected goals) value of 21.8, the seventh-highest in the Pro League, while he's already matched last season's goals output of four.

 

Doku is seemingly the outstanding one of the bunch in terms of flair, at the very least. He attempted (184) and completed (110) the fifth-most dribbles across the top five European leagues last season, encouraging proof of his confidence and technique.

Currently injured, Doku still has plenty to work on in terms of his end product, but the raw minerals are there, and he didn't look out of place at Euro 2020.

Are these youngsters enough to carry the burden of expectation that's been cultivated by Belgium's 'Golden Generation', though? At the moment it's difficult to say the new kids on the block are generally of the same quality on an individual level, because Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard et al have just been so good over the years.

While Nations League success may not cut it as a satisfactory legacy for this Belgium team, winning the title in Italy might just give them the nudge their collective mentality needs ahead of what looks likely to be a last realistic tilt at the World Cup for a while.

Raphael Varane called on France to rediscover their World Cup-winning form as they prepare to face Belgium in the Nations League semi-final.

Varane won the World Cup in 2018 with Les Bleus but was also part of the disappointment of Euro 2020, which saw France eliminated at the last-16 stage by Switzerland.

France's form in 2021 includes a run of five consecutive draws across all competitions, the first time Les Bleus have gone on such a streak, up until the 2-0 win over Finland in their last outing.

Didier Deschamps' side have however remained unbeaten in their first six matches of World Cup 2022 qualification – the first time they have achieved the feat in qualifying matches for a major tournament since 2006.

And Varane implored his country to use the triumph over Finland as a confidence booster for the upcoming Nations League clash, with the winner facing either Spain or Italy in the final.

"We finished the last game very well," Manchester United centre-back Varane told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"We needed it to revive a dynamic, to regain that confidence. When we chained draws together, there could have been less confidence, but these are the hazards of high-level football.

"We must build on this to continue to maintain this positive dynamic and gain new momentum, with greater success.

"There are all the qualities in this group. It's up to us to succeed in triggering this confidence and success which has enabled us to be world champions.

"We know that it takes this energy, this little madness sometimes in the game to create it."

Varane is joined in the France camp by the Hernandez brothers, Lucas and Theo, who could feature in defence together against Belgium.

The pair, who appeared at the news conference in tandem, assured that whoever starts will give their all to ensure that their team are in the final on Sunday.

"We are brothers but on the field, we are partners," Lucas Hernandez said.

"The most important thing is that everyone wants to win. These are special moments.

"When the matches start, we don't know who will start, but we will be united, we will give each other advice. We're all going to pull in the same direction."

Theo Hernandez echoed his brother's sentiments, adding: "We will help each other. It doesn't matter if it's me or Lucas playing. The other will be there to help him at all times."

Kylian Mbappe revealed he considered taking a break from playing for France after their disappointment at Euro 2020.

Mbappe endured a frustrating campaign at the European Championship, culminating in him missing the decisive spot-kick against Switzerland as Les Bleus succumbed to a shock last-16 exit.

The 22-year-old left the major tournament without a goal to his name, despite attempting 14 shots across 390 minutes of action, before returning to Paris Saint-Germain, where reports swirled of a potential move to Real Madrid.

The France international was also embroiled in a pre-tournament public war of words with fellow striker Olivier Giroud, who claimed members of Didier Deschamps' side were not passing to him before their opener against Germany.

With the poor performances and the early exit for the 2018 World Cup winners, reports emerged that Mbappe was a disruptive figure within the France setup, leading to the superstar contemplating a hiatus from the national team.

"I have always placed the French national team above everything and I will always put it above everything," Mbappe told French outlet L’Equipe ahead of the Nations League semi-final against Belgium.

"I have never taken a single Euro to play for the French national team and I will always play for my national team for free. 

"Above all, I never wanted to be a problem. But from the moment where I felt like that I was starting to become a problem and that people felt I was a problem - the most important thing is the French national team.

"And if the French national team is happier without me... that is what I was made to feel and that is what I felt.

"I received the message, that my ego was what made us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space, and that without me, therefore, we might have won. 

"I met with the [FFF] president, [Noel] Le Graet, and we had exchanges."

 

Deschamps' world champions seemingly had their Euro 2020 quarter-final berth in their grasp, leading 3-1 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

However, two late goals for Switzerland marked a remarkable comeback, which peaked when Yann Sommer guessed the right way against Mbappe in the shoot-out.

Along with the failure from 12 yards, Mbappe did not muster a shot on target despite firing in six attempts against Vladimir Petkovic's side but the barrage of abuse, including racist comments, is what left the former Monaco forward considering his future.

"I have so much love for the French national team that I abstract from it all," he continued. "What shocked me, again, was being called a monkey for the penalty.

"That is what I wanted support around, not because I took my penalty to the left and Sommer stopped it: that is on me, that is my foot that did that.

"I was booed in all of the stadiums in France! Aside from that, there was not just that, there was also the transfer, but the reality is that I was booed in all the stadiums, yes.

"But I understand everything around the sporting world now: if you are not good, you accept what people say, there you go.

"You just have to look at yourself in the mirror: I was not as good as I should have been, I accept it, and I live with this failure because it will serve me well."

Didier Deschamps is not worried about Antoine Griezmann's lack of form ahead of France's Nations League Finals campaign this week.

The 30-year-old returned to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona in a high-profile transfer at the end of August following two largely underwhelming campaigns at Camp Nou.

Griezmann was expected to revive his career in the Spanish capital, but he has managed just one goal and no assists in seven appearances in his second spell with Atletico.

That solitary strike came in last week's 2-1 win over Milan in the Champions League, though he was again left out of Atletico's starting lineup for Saturday's showdown with Barcelona.

He has been named in Deschamps' 23-man squad for this week's Nations League Finals, which will see France face Belgium in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Les Blues will then either take on Italy or Spain in Sunday's final or third-placed play-off, depending on the outcome of both semi-finals.

And Deschamps has no concerns about using Griezmann, who has 41 goals in 98 caps for France, in those matches.

"His goal in the Champions League was very positive," Deschamps said at a news conference on Monday. "Even though he didn't start, that goal will give him confidence.

"He has returned to a club he knows well, but with different players around him. He can't just click his fingers.

"But because of his qualities and state of mind, I do not worry about him. I know he will be happy to join up with the France team."

Griezmann played a full part for France in their World Cup semi-final clash with Belgium en route to lifting the trophy in 2018, setting up Samuel Umtiti's winning goal.

The Nations League presents France with a chance to add to that triumph, having exited Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage, but they must overcome two sides ranked in the world's top eight.

"There is a title at stake; we have a semi-final to play against one of the best teams in the world," he said. 

"With Italy and Spain on the other side, there are four of us fighting for this title. We did everything to qualify for this final phase in a very tough group. 

"We want to get this title. Before there were two titles: the Euros and the World Cup. Now there is the Nations League. Winning it is our goal."

Belgium have named a vastly experienced squad for the Finals, with Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard all boasting over 100 caps.

Roberto Martinez's men only reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, where they were beaten by tournament winners Italy – their only defeat in 17 matches and one of only two defeats in 31 games since November 2018.

Ranked number one in the world, Deschamps acknowledged France face a big task against Belgium on Thursday.

"They have evolved well, with six or seven players on 100 or more caps," he said. "They are the best team in the FIFA rankings and have a very experienced core.

"It is a beautiful generation of players, but one that has not yet had the happiness of success at the Euros or World Cup."

Deschamps added: "It's going to be a fight at a physical, tactical and technical level. There is a lot of respect between myself and Roberto Martinez and also between the players.

"But there is of course a rivalry there because we are border countries, which we also have with Italy and Spain.

"There was also the 2018 semi-final we played, but this match cannot change what happened then. That will not have too much importance this week."

France head coach Didier Deschamps believes FIFA's proposed biennial World Cup plan will trivialise the tournament.

FIFA, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, want to shift the World Cup format to see an edition take place every two years.

The former Arsenal manager's proposal would cause further scheduling issues for international footballers with an already heavy workload for club and country.

However, after both UEFA and CONMEBOL pushed back against the idea, Deschamps warned of devaluing football's showpiece event, though he appreciates any change will likely not come during his tenure with Les Bleus.

"To be honest, my first feeling in my playing career, being able to move on to a World Cup every two years, it makes me feel like I'm trivialising it," Deschamps told reporters on Thursday.

"That's the best word I can think of. I do not have all the ins and outs. I will not be the expert but until now, every four years, it was very good like that. We are used to it.

"Afterwards, it is according to the interests of each other. If the majority is there, it can pass. I think at that time, I wouldn't be concerned anymore. So I would watch."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique is also concerned about the problems it may force on footballers' workloads, though he accepts it would improve the overall experience for spectators.

"To unify a calendar and to have attractive possibilities for the viewer it is necessary in order for football to keep being attractive to young generations and to the world in general," he said.

"But it is obvious that the calendar needs to be reduced. I am not the right or capable person to advise from where it would need to be reduced.

"A World Cup every two years, as a national coach I would be delighted, of course. But a reduction is needed. And I don't know from where this reduction must come."

N'Golo Kante will miss the entirety of the Nations League Finals as Didier Deschamps is unwilling to take a risk with France's superstar midfielder, who has contracted coronavirus having just returned to fitness.

Kante was named in the French squad for the previous international break but missed out through injury, included only as an unused substitute against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Chelsea man has not played for his country since Euro 2020 and will not now be involved against Belgium in the Nations League semi-final, nor in either the final or third-place play-off after that.

Kante was missing from Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Juventus on Wednesday due to testing positive for COVID-19.

France coach Deschamps acknowledges Kante would have been cleared in time for the second Nations League Finals match on October 10, but he doubts the midfielder would be in any condition to play to the best of his ability.

"It is 10 days since Monday, so you calculate," Deschamps said. "There was always the assumption that he would be there for the second game, but after 10 days without training, knowing that he was injured recently...

"I would prefer him to be there, but I also prefer him 100 per cent. Let him take advantage of this period to regain his physical freshness."

There is also no Kingsley Coman, who has been restricted to just eight minutes since the previous international break, or Thomas Lemar, as he battles a hamstring issue.

Steve Mandanda has been dropped after losing out to Pau Lopez in the Marseille goal, while Olivier Giroud's recent return for Milan is not enough for a recall – a "sporting choice", Deschamps explained, after other forwards impressed last time.

But the defence now looks a lot healthier, as Bayern Munich men Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are able to rejoin the squad, as does team-mate Dayot Upamecano, who had to pull out last time. Deschamps listed Hernandez's brother Theo as a midfielder.

Crucially, the calf injury that kept Kylian Mbappe out of France's most recent games has subsided, meaning Deschamps must again attempt to strike a balance in attack, where Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema excelled in the Paris Saint-Germain forward's absence.

Griezmann, who has Deschamps' backing after a tricky start to his second stint at Atletico Madrid, scored twice against Finland – the first assisted by Benzema – as Les Bleus bounced back from draws with Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"What happened is in the past," Deschamps added. "There is a title to play for. We have a semi-final to play against one of the best teams in Europe and the world, if not the best.

"We have given everything to qualify for the Finals. Now, we are there. We keep the same state of mind; we want to go for the title."

France squad:

Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan); Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Digne (Everton), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), Jordan Veretout (Roma); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

Samir Nasri has confirmed his retirement from football at the age of 34.

The former France international announced his decision on Canal+, where he is now a pundit, on Sunday.

Nasri came through at Marseille and transferred to Arsenal in 2008, spending three years at Emirates Stadium before he joined Manchester City.

At City, Nasri won two Premier League titles, an EFL Cup and a Community Shield. He joined Sevilla on loan in 2016-17 and seemed to have revitalised his career in LaLiga, though the move was not made permanent.

A short spell in Turkey with Antalyaspor followed, but Nasri mutually terminated his contract in January 2018, before he received a six-month ban from football by UEFA for breaching WADA rules in December 2016 by receiving an intravenous drip of 500 millilitres of water containing nutrients.

It is that ban that Nasri says made him fall out of love with football, with the playmaker always insisting he was innocent.

"One episode hurt me badly and changed my relationship with football: my suspension," he said on Canal+. 

"I found that more than unfair, I had not taken any doping product. It was just an injection of vitamins because I was sick. It cut me off in my tracks."

 

Nasri returned to play with West Ham on a short-term contract in 2018-19, playing five league games in total.

He linked up with ex-City team-mate Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht the following season, though it was another ill-fated spell and he was released in 2020.

Of his move to Anderlecht, Nasri said: "There was an emotional side, but also the idea of ​​being a player and also a little in the staff. As I would like to coach, I told myself that I would learn with him [Kompany].

"It didn't go as planned. Then the Championship was stopped because of COVID. Afterwards, I didn't necessarily want to [play]. No challenge excited me and I couldn't see myself coming back to France if it wasn't for Marseille."

Nasri impressed at Arsenal, scoring 18 league goals and setting up a further seven across his three seasons at the club, though injuries often kept his appearances down.

He never quite lived up to the billing at City after his reported £25million move, though did help the club to their first ever Premier League crown in 2011-12, while in 2013-14 he scored seven goals and created as many as Manuel Pellegrini's side clinched the title.

His appearances dwindled later in his City career, and he played just 12 times in the league in his final full season at the Etihad Stadium, starting on only four occasions before he was loaned out by Pep Guardiola in 2016.

European champions Italy are on a world record 37-game unbeaten streak, but they remain lodged at number five in the FIFA rankings.

The world governing body published its new list on Thursday and the only change in the top five saw England jump to third, nudging France down to fourth.

England were runners-up to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, losing on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw, and two wins and a draw from World Cup qualifiers in September have seen Gareth Southgate's team edge ahead of Les Bleus.

It is the first time since 2012 that England have reached the top three, and third place remains the highest position they have achieved in the rankings.

Didier Deschamps' France could only manage two draws and a win in this month's international break, while Italy were held by Bulgaria and Switzerland before landing a 5-0 victory over Lithuania.

Italy have been a roaring success under the leadership of Roberto Mancini, who inherited a team that failed to qualify for the last World Cup and had plummeted to 21st in FIFA's rankings.

They set the record for the most games unbeaten at international level during their run of September games, staying in control as leaders of World Cup European qualifying Group C.

With FIFA's rankings offering significant weighting to World Cup tournament performance, Italy could make a significant leap should their strong form under coach Mancini continue into the Qatar 2022 finals.

Belgium remain top of the FIFA list, with Brazil in second. Copa America winners Argentina stay sixth.

 

Antoine Griezmann declared "I'm back" to Atletico Madrid's supporters after returning to training for the first time since re-joining from Barcelona.

The France forward made the switch to LaLiga's champions on loan for the 2021-22 season, with the option for either club to extend for a further year.

Less than 24 hours after scoring twice in Les Bleus’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland on Tuesday, Griezmann was back in training with Los Rojiblancos.

The 30-year-old delivered a personalised message via the club’s official Twitter account, saying: "Hello Atleti fans, I'm back."

Griezmann scored 133 goals in 257 appearances during his first spell with Atletico between 2014 and 2019, before departing for Barcelona in a €120million deal.

He was part of Diego Simeone's side that won the 2018 Europa League, two years after helping them reach the Champions League final.

Didier Deschamps praised France's determination after defeating Finland 2-0 in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Les Bleus ended a five-game winless run with victory in Lyon as they continued their unbeaten streak and created a seven-point gap over second-place Ukraine in Group D.

Despite an underwhelming return after a poor Euro 2020 showing, it is the first time since 2006 that France have not lost any of their first six matches in qualifying for a major tournament (W3 D3).

Indeed, consecutive draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine had placed pressure on Deschamps, which is why he hailed Tuesday's win as crucial.

"It's easy to talk, I'm doing what I think is good for them and the interests of the France team," Deschamps told TF1 post-match.

"Even if we didn't do everything well, today there was more determination and from there, the technical quality is there.

"It was a very important result, but the job will have to be finished in November.

"We have never stayed for such a long period [without a win], it can happen.

"We must therefore appreciate this victory and especially during the last two qualifying matches in November, finish the job."

Antoine Griezmann's brace proved the difference, his first making him the fourth France player to score 40 goals, while his second saw him join Michel Platini in third on the list of all-time goalscorers.

The 30-year-old thrived after a change in system by Deschamps to a three-man defence and the Atletico Madrid loanee also recognised the importance of the result.

"We wanted this victory, to show that we are solid and that we had not lost anything," Griezmann said to TF1.

"Now we must keep this state of mind, this desire to give everything on the field, to win the duels and having to hurt like we did.

"Maybe we found a system that suits us best. We'll see. It's the coach who'll decide. But tonight, we were strong.

"Five draws was a long time. We wanted to win and we did it in the right way."

Antoine Griezmann's double ended a five-game winless run for France as they defeated Finland 2-0 in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Didier Deschamps' men scored the opening goal for the first time in six matches, Griezmann delivering a stunning left-footed finish to become the fourth player to score 40 goals for France.

Finland were the most recent defeat team to triumph on French soil but rarely troubled in Lyon, Griezmann adding a second after the break to draw him level with Michel Platini in third on the all-time scoring list.

The hosts sit top of Group D and remain unbeaten despite their underwhelming return after a poor Euro 2020, while Markku Kanerva's men have won just two of their past 12 games across all competitions.

Urho Nissila brought the first save from Hugo Lloris, his looping strike forcing the Tottenham goalkeeper to tip over before Karim Benzema called Lukas Hradecky into action with a left-footed effort.

However, Hradecky was no match four minutes later as Griezmann beautifully curled into the bottom-right corner after an offload from Benzema, who was appearing in Lyon for the first time since 2011 after returning to his former club with Real Madrid.

Paul Pogba came close to adding a second, though he could only volley wide on the stretch as he sliced his right-footed strike from outside the area.

Griezmann doubled his and France's tally after the break, rolling a delicate shot through the legs of Hradecky after being teed up by Leo Dubois.

Atletico Madrid's new loanee should have completed his hat-trick, Benzema again acting as the creator, but he could only poke over before acrobatically volleying wide with his next attempt.

Benzema could have had a goal of his own in the closing stages, but Hradecky got down well to parry away after the forward had struck a left-footed volley.

What does it mean? Deschamps ends winless run and furthers Group D lead

France had stuttered after their poor showing at Euro 2020, drawing their five games in a row for the first time in their history before the visit of Finland.

However, Tuesday's win ensured their unbeaten run remains intact and extended their advantage at the top of Group D to a seven-point gap over second-place Ukraine.

Finland have played a game less than their closest rivals Ukraine but also sit on five points in third place, despite only picking up their first win against Kazakhstan last weekend.

Perfect Pogba

Griezmann will take the plaudits but Pogba appeared a class above at Groupama Stadium as he enjoyed a game-high 142 touches.

No player completed more passes than the Manchester United midfielder (113), who also recorded the most opposition-half passes (73).

In a complete midfield outing, Pogba managed 17 recoveries of the ball, 10 more than any other player on the pitch.

Poor Pukki

Teemu Pukki needs just three more goals to become Finland's all-time top scorer but fired a blank in a timid performance, with a second-half caution not helping his cause.

Only the two goalkeepers, Lloris and Hradecky (both 28), had fewer touches than Pukki's 29 and he won fewer than half of the nine duels he competed for.

To make matters worse, the Norwich City forward completed the fewest passes (14) of any outfield player in Lyon to play 90 minutes as he endured a torrid time up top.

What's next?

France face Belgium in the Nations League semi-final in October before hosting Kazakhstan the following month. Finland next play Ukraine at Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

Wissam Ben Yedder has been called up to the France squad as Kingsley Coman struggles with a calf injury. 

Coman played just over an hour of France's 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Saturday – their fifth straight match without a victory. 

With the Bayern Munich winger a doubt to face Finland in Les Bleus' next World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, head coach Didier Deschamps decided to call up a reinforcement. 

Ben Yedder was added to the squad on Monday for France's third game in seven days. 

Deschamps confirmed Jules Kounde would miss the Finland match through suspension following his red card in last week's 1-1 draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Aurelien Tchouameni and Thomas Lemar were struggling for fitness. 

The France boss called on his team to be more proactive against Finland and bring an end to their winless streak. 

"In those two matches [against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine], we were more reactive than proactive, with chances not in our favour," said Deschamps. 

"We are aware of it and tomorrow we must reverse this trend. Defence is important, too, but this is a less happy time because of the results. We know what we have to do to stay in control of our destiny. 

"The players are not happy. They cannot be satisfied with these results. We will do everything to reverse the trend.  

"I will redouble my efforts. The players are in the same state of mind, to add a little more and get what we want." 

Former France and Paris Saint-Germain defender Jean-Pierre Adams has died aged 73 after spending 39 years in a coma.

Adams, who appeared 22 times for France, was left in a coma from the age of 34 after undergoing what should have been a routine knee operation.

But Adams never awoke from surgery, anaesthetic-related errors by hospital staff in Lyon led to his brain being starved of oxygen and causing him to slip into a coma.

Adams died at the Nimes University Hospital on Monday.

Tributes have followed from his former clubs Nimes, Nice and PSG, as they all pay respects to a pioneer who paved the way for French-African footballers.

Nimes, who Adams made 84 appearances for, expressed their "most sincere condolences to his loved ones and his family", and Nice promised a tribute before their next home game against Monaco on September 19.

PSG, too, released a statement echoing similar sentiments, adding that Adams' "joie de vivre, charisma and experience commanded respect".

The Senegal-born footballer returned home to Nimes the year after the botched operation and was cared for by his wife Bernadette up to his passing.

Paul Pogba insists he and his fellow France players have no problem with head coach Didier Deschamps but were "disgusted" by the team's failure at Euro 2020

Draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in World Cup qualifying have followed France's wretched European mission.

Despite going into Euro 2020 as many people's favourites, France were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland in the second round, with Pogba seen in a lively discussion with Deschamps after the game.

Deschamps has been boss of France since 2012 and is set to lead his reigning world champions into next year's World Cup, assuming they qualify.

Manchester United midfielder Pogba looks set to face Finland on Tuesday as France attempt to end a run of five successive draws – including the 3-3 thriller with the Swiss that was followed by the spot-kick sucker punch.

France had never before drawn five consecutive games, and they perhaps need a win to lift spirits.

Speaking about his post-Switzerland talks with Deschamps, Pogba told TF1 on Sunday: "It wasn't hard-nosed. It was a discussion with frustration. But it was just that. There is nothing at all. It's going very well with the coach."

Pogba added: "We were disgusted with the Euro. But we want to get over that and move on. It really hurt us. When you think back to that match against Switzerland, nobody would have imagined that. We are the ones who lost the game. It was not Switzerland that won it."

France led 3-1 against the Swiss but folded in the closing stages of normal time, and Pogba said: "If we replayed the game it wouldn't be the same. We would certainly have changed the way we entered the field."

Against Finland, Deschamps will be determined his team avoid another slow start.

France have surprisingly conceded the opening goal in each of their last five games, their longest such run since another run of five from November 2009 to June 2010, during Raymond Domenech's reign as national coach.

They sit top of Group D but Finland, four points behind in second place, have two games in hand, making Tuesday's clash in Lyon a significant game in how the campaign pans out.

Didier Deschamps insists he has no concerns over the atmosphere in the France camp after his side's winless run continued with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine. 

Les Blues suffered a shock Euro 2020 exit at the last-16 stage in June following defeat to Switzerland on penalties and have now drawn five games in a row for the first time ever. 

France's latest underwhelming performance came in Kiev on Saturday as Anthony Martial's first international goal in five years cancelled out Mykola Shaparenko's excellent opener. 

However, the reigning world champions are still in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022 and Deschamps has refuted suggestions there are some issues behind the scenes. 

"You have external impressions which are not the same as from the inside," he told Telefoot. "There really is no problem on this side of things. 

"I can assure you the group is concentrated, even if we are in a period with less success. Everything is linked in terms of confidence and success." 

Despite having 61.5 per cent of the ball and managing 16 shots, five of which were on target, Deschamps' men could not find a winning goal. 

France have now conceded the opening goal in five consecutive matches, their longest such run since the days of Raymond Domenech from November 2009 to June 2010. 

"The opponents offer us the same pattern in front of goal with group blocks," Deschamps added.  

"We have the annoying habit of chasing after the score now. There are times like that, you have to accept it." 

 

France are four points clear of second-placed Finland in Group D, though their next opponents have two games in hand. 

Ahead of Tuesday's clash between the sides in Lyon, France striker Karim Benzema accepts it is down to him and his team-mates to take the game to Finland if they are to return to winning ways. 

"There is nothing to worry about," he told Telefoot. "We have to set the pace and manage our efforts. It is up to us to set the speed.  

"If we keep the ball behind, we have to play fast and vertical passes to hurt the opponent. We have the players needed for that. We can't fall into the pace set by the opponent. 

"We need to enter the field with the desire to win." 

The match at Groupama Stadium will be an emotional occasion for Benzema, who spent 12 years at Lyon before joining Real Madrid in 2009. 

"It's very special. I have not yet played in this stadium," Benzema said. "Coming back to my city, where it all began for me, is special." 

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