Kylian Mbappe is delighted to get the chance to play alongside Karim Benzema at Euro 2020, declaring there are not many better players than the Real Madrid forward.

Benzema, 33, earned his first France call-up in over five years on Tuesday when he was included in Didier Deschamps' squad for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Mbappe, meanwhile, continued his excellent season with a brilliant display in Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Monaco in the Coupe de France final on Wednesday, teeing up Mauro Icardi's opener and scoring himself late on.

It was the eighth direct goal involvement of Mbappe's Coupe de France campaign (five games), topping his previous best of seven in the competition, set in 2017-18.

Yet the main focus in the post-match news conference was on Benzema's return to Les Bleus' squad.

"I'm very happy. I've always said that I wanted to play with great players," said Mbappe.

"Benzema, I didn't [play with him]. There is not many [players] above him in the world. He will bring us a lot.

"He played at Madrid for 10 years, the pressure, he knows, he has the experience and the talent above all. The big players adapt. I'm sure he will adapt very quickly."

Mbappe was also asked if he would be in place to help PSG push on for a 15th Coupe de France trophy next season.

"We must take advantage of this title," he answered with a smile, deflecting the question somewhat. 

"Look at all the people who are happy! This is most important. And I am the happiest!"

PSG have won two trophies this season under Mauricio Pochettino, and the Ligue 1 title race is going down to the wire. Should they beat Brest on Sunday, and Lille drop points against Angers, the capital club will snatch the top-flight crown.

"We work every day to have this type of emotion, reward and recognition," Mbappe added.

"It's the work of a whole group, a whole staff, who work every day for us, for the club. The supporters, the title is for them too.

"When you play for Paris Saint-Germain, one of the best clubs in the world, the biggest in the country, every title counts."

Monaco boss Niko Kovac, meanwhile, said there was one major difference between the teams at Stade de France.

"The difference tonight is Mbappe," he said.

"He is one of the best players in the world, if not the best at the moment. All the clubs are fighting to have him. We had him, we no longer have him."

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe said he is dreaming of playing for France at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Mbappe and world champions France are preparing for the rescheduled Euro 2020, which gets underway next month.

As Didier Deschamps' Les Bleus eye European glory, Mbappe also wants to represent his country at the Tokyo Games, starting in July.

"For us, having recognition from the whole country is very important," the 22-year-old Mbappe told TF1.

"Everyone knows that my dream has always been to take part at the Olympic Games and I hope I will be able to realise one of my lifelong dreams."

France have been drawn alongside hosts Japan, Mexico and South Africa in Group A at the Olympics.

Led by Under-21 boss Sylvain Ripoll at the Olympics, France are scheduled to open their campaign against Mexico on July 22.

On his short-term objections, Mbappe said: "The objective is always the same - to try to win the Euros to bring happiness to the French people.

"We have a team which is capable of competing for it. We always want to win. If we do win it, it will bring a great deal of joy.

"We are going to prepare well for the tournament with the hope of going far. We will be trying to bring the trophy back to France."

 

Karim Benzema has received a sensational recall to the France squad for Euro 2020, over five years since he last represented his country.

The Real Madrid striker scored twice in a 4-0 win over Armenia in October 2015, taking his tally to 27 international goals. 

Benzema then became embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving Les Bleus team-mate Mathieu Valbuena in the weeks after that game and has been subsequently overlooked by national team boss Didier Deschamps, despite his outstanding form at club level.

However, the 33-year-old - who has scored 29 goals in all competitions for Madrid this season - is undoubtedly the eye-catching name in France's 26-man party for the upcoming tournament, adding further depth up front for the reigning world champions.

"We met, we spoke at length, I then thought very hard and came to make this decision," Deschamps said of the decision to bring Benzema back in from the cold.

"I needed this chat, he needed this chat. I don't want to make this a specific case. As national team boss, I have always look beyond my personal case. My responsibility is important, but it is bigger than me."

There is also a place for Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram, as well as Sevilla defender Jules Kounde.

Anthony Martial, however, misses out due to fitness concerns. The forward suffered a knee injury while playing for France in March, though could make a return to action for Manchester United before the end of the season.

"Anthony Martial would have been here but he is not available. His condition does not allow it," Deschamps revealed during a press conference.

Teenage midfielder Eduardo Camavinga - heavily linked with Madrid - is another notable absentee, along with Rennes team-mate Steven Nzonzi. There is also no place for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

France will play friendly fixtures against Wales and Bulgaria ahead of the delayed European Championship, which was pushed back a year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deschamps' side start their Group F campaign against Germany on June 15, followed four days later by a clash with Hungary. They complete their round-robin campaign on June 23 by taking on Portugal, the nation who defeated them in the Euro 2016 final in Paris.


France squad: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mike Maignan (Lille); Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Clement Lenglet (Barcelona), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Lucas Digne (Everton); N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid); Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona).
 

Karim Benzema has added the France national team's handle to his Twitter bio amid mounting speculation his international exile is about to end.

France boss Didier Deschamps is expected to include the Real Madrid striker when he names his Euro 2020 squad on Tuesday.

It will be the first time since October 2015, when he scored a brace in a friendly against Armenia, that Benzema has featured for Les Bleus.

His new Twitter bio simply reads: "Football player - @equipedefrance @realmadrid"

In the weeks following the Armenia match, Benzema became embroiled in blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema will stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October and denies any wrongdoing.

Even though his form for Real Madrid has often been exceptional, landing him three Champions Leagues and two LaLiga titles in the interim period, the apparent reconciliation with Deschamps still comes as a huge surprise.

At the height of publicity surrounding the alleged sex tape extortion attempt on Valbuena, when France's then Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Benzema had "no place" in the national team, the forward hit out at Deschamps and claimed he had "bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France".

 

Dream team? Benzema set to join Mbappe and Griezmann in formidable frontline

Deschamps said he would "never forget" those words, but now the world champions look set to line up with a fearsome forward line combining Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

In the time since Benzema's 81st cap – he has 27 goals at international level – all three have established themselves among the leading attacking talents in Europe.

Benzema has 138 goals in 269 Real Madrid outings, placing him 13th among players from across Europe's top five leagues in all competitions. Over the same period, Griezmann has 137 (293 matches) and Mbappe 157 (229 matches) – hauls split across respective stints with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, and Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe (€180million) and Griezmann (€120m) are the second and fifth most expensive players of all time, with compatriots Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele also moving in €100m deals since Benzema last played internationally – further underlining the enviable level of talent Deschamps has at his disposal.

Benzema is often noted for his selflessness and ability to combine well with team-mates. Since October 8, 2015, he has 54 assists from 375 chances created at Madrid. Mbappe has 68 assists – placing him fourth among players to have scored 100 or more goals in this time, behind Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez – from 326 chances created, while Griezmann has laid on 397 opportunities for 55 assists.

This is firepower Deschamps will be glad to call upon in a tough Euro 2020 group alongside Germany, Hungary and Portugal – the reigning champions and their conquerors in the 2016 final.

Aymeric Laporte is set to represent Spain at Euro 2020 after switching his allegiance from France.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte has represented Les Bleus 51 times in total across the under-17 and under-21 age groups.

However, the 26-year-old was never handed his senior debut, despite being called up three times by Didier Deschamps.

Laporte came through the youth ranks at Athletic Bilbao and made 222 appearances for the Basque club until joining City in January 2018.

He was granted Spanish citizenship earlier this week and FIFA has confirmed he can play for Spain with "immediate effect".

A report by Marca earlier this week claimed Spain boss Luis Enrique lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to look into the possibility of Laporte changing allegiance, so it feels safe to assume he will be a key part of the former Barcelona head coach's plans for Euro 2020.

But how does Laporte compare to Spain's other options at centre-back?

Regular game time

Despite scoring the winner in last month's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collecting a third Premier League title in four seasons at City, it has been a mixed campaign for Laporte on a personal level.

He went into 2020-21 as Pep Guardiola's go-to centre-back but the arrival of Ruben Dias and John Stones' resurgence means he is no longer first choice at the Etihad Stadium.

Nevertheless, the packed schedule undertaken across all competitions by the Champions League finalists means he has still played 27 games, starting 24 and completing 2,250 minutes.

Of centre-backs used by Luis Enrique this season, that places Laporte third behind Villarreal's Pau Torres (41 games, 3,675 minutes) and Athletic's Inigo Martinez (32 games, 2,914).

Sergio Ramos, who is now widely expected to have a new centre-back partner for La Roja, has been restricted to 21 games and 1,790 minutes by injuries this season, while Diego Llorente (14 games, 1,160) was compromised by a serious groin injury after joining Leeds United.

One would-be international colleague Laporte knows very well is club team-mate Eric Garcia. The 20-year-old is set to leave City after declining to sign a new contract last term.

While running down the clock to his anticipated move to Barcelona, Garcia has become a marginal figure in Manchester, despite Guardiola continuing to profess his admiration of his talents.

His 10 appearances and eight starts amount to 693 minutes, not significantly more than 514 minutes across seven caps for Spain this season.

Indeed, Luis Enrique started Garcia in all three of the March internationals, suggesting his lack of club action is not overly hindering his case.

Keeping it tight in Manchester

City's defensive improvements have been central to their success this season and, although no longer an automatic selection, Laporte has more than played his part.

The 14 goals conceded with him on the field are just four more than Guardiola's side have let in amid Garcia's sporadic outings. Only Torres (13) has amassed more than his 12 clean sheets.

Laporte ranks well across all of the key defensive metrics this season, with 18 tackles placing him level with Ramos and Torres.

Martinez has made 24, while Marcelo Bielsa's famously intense style of play might be largely responsible for Llorente going into 31 tackles during his relatively smaller workload.

Laporte's duel success rate of 63.7 per cent is the best of the bunch, with Martinez contesting and winning the most overall (263 and 149), while Torres is out in front in terms of recoveries (232).

In the air and on the ground

Standing at 6ft 3ins, Laporte will provide the kind of imposing presence Spain have perhaps lacked.

He has contested 100 and won 69 aerials, similar numbers to the 103 and 62 returned by Torres, who is of similar stature. Martinez's 136 contested and 82 won again show the Athletic man getting through plenty of work.

Perhaps Laporte's most celebrated quality is his capacity to start moves from the back via his superb left foot.

Centre-backs completing a high proportion of their passes is not unusual, given the generally simple nature of them, but Laporte generally plays in a notably progressive manner.

He has made 244 passes into the final third this season, more than any of the Spain centre-backs mentioned (Torres 240, Martinez 235), a trait that is sure to be welcomed by the attacking talents in Luis Enrique's squad.

Australia will host France in a three-Test series in July, Rugby Australia (RA) announced on Friday.

The Wallabies will welcome fifth-ranked nation France to Australia, with games staged in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Midweek Test rugby will return for the first time since 2012 when the Wallabies face France at the SCG on July 7 before games at AAMI Park in Melbourne (July 13) and Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium (July 17).

Dave Rennie's Australia – who last met France in 2016 – will play a match at the SCG for the first time since 1986.

"France are one of the most exciting teams in World Rugby; they play with passion, flair and unpredictability and have proven time and time again they are one of the global forces of our game," said RA chief executive Andy Marinos.

"They have been quietly building their team as evidenced in their Junior World Cup performances over the past three seasons, and we are now starting to see this translate into their senior side as they look ahead to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France."

"We have also seen the emergence of our own new next generation of Wallaby players throughout the 2020 International season, where I have no doubt, they will continue to build positive momentum into this exciting eToro France Test Series to be held in in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane," he added. 

"The return of midweek Test matches presents a unique opportunity for fans at home and at the venue, with each stadium in a central location for those attending after work.

"As we navigate our way through the ever-changing sporting landscape that we now operate within, we do so with the continued safety of all those involved in these Test matches, along with the communities in which we play, remaining our number one priority.

"We have enjoyed constructive and engaged discussions with [Rugby Union Players Association] RUPA on the international calendar, ensuring that player welfare and high-performance outcomes can be optimised. We will continue to work with our players to ensure our collective goal of being successful in all we do is realised."

France suffered a 3-0 whitewash during their last tour of Australia in 2014, and French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte said: "It is a great opportunity for our French team to confront an emblematic nation of the southern hemisphere that has marked the history of world rugby such as Australia.

"We are convinced that our bleus, who feel a growing popular wave of the French at each match, will be keen to continue to perform on the international stage and demonstrate that France is among the great nations of world rugby!"

Reigning champions Brazil and 2016 finalists Germany have been drawn together in the group stages for the men's football tournament at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Brazil secured the gold medal on home soil in Rio five years ago when defeating Germany via a penalty shoot-out, Neymar with the clinching spot-kick for following a 1-1 draw after extra time.

The two nations are together again in Group D, along with Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia, and are in the same half of the draw as Argentina and Spain, who are both in Group C.

Hosts Japan are joined in Group A by France, Mexico – who claimed the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – and South Africa.

Les Bleus will be involved in the opening match when they take on Mexico on July 22 at Tokyo Stadium, followed by Japan taking on South Africa at the same venue later that day.

In the women's event, the United States – winners of the 2019 World Cup - are paired with Sweden, who lost the 2016 final to Germany. Trans-Tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand complete the line-up for Group G.

Japan will take on Canada, Great Britain and Chile in Group E, while the other pool contains China, Brazil, the Netherlands and Zambia.


Men's draw in full:

Group A: Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France.

Group B: New Zealand, South Korea, Honduras, Romania.

Group C: Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia.

Group D: Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia

Women's draw in full:

Group E: Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Chile.

Group F: China, Brazil, Zambia, the Netherlands.

Group G: Sweden, United States, Australia, New Zealand.

Antoine Griezmann scored the only goal as a below-par France edged past Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 in their World Cup qualifying clash on Wednesday. 

The 2018 winners followed up their opening Group D draw against Ukraine with a routine win over Kazakhstan on Sunday, but back-to-back wins did not look likely during a dismal first half from Didier Deschamps' side. 

They perked up in the second period, though, and sealed all three points when Griezmann headed home his 35th international goal in the 60th minute. 

The result means Les Bleus are top of Group D on seven points, four points clear of second-placed Ukraine.

Hugo Lloris, whose 123rd appearance moved him level with Thierry Henry as France's second-most capped player, was twice called into action shortly before the half-hour mark. 

First, he pawed away Darko Todorovic's fierce strike from distance before superbly tipping away Anel Ahmedhodzic's close-range header from a corner. 

Kylian Mbappe and Griezmann cut isolated figures in attack for France in the opening 45 minutes, with Deschamps side going in at the break having had just a single shot on target. 

They improved after the interval and went ahead on the hour mark, Griezmann steering a superb header from Adrien Rabiot's cross into Ibrahim Sehic's top-right corner.

The hosts rarely looked like salvaging a point in the closing stages as France comfortably held on to take command of the group.

 

 

Kylian Mbappe cannot be satisfied with his performances in France's opening two World Cup 2022 qualifiers, according to head coach Didier Deschamps.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward played 77 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Ukraine and just over half an hour in the 2-0 victory over Kazakhstan without finding the net.

He attempted seven shots across those two Group D fixtures, finding the target from three of them, including a penalty that was saved by Alexandr Mokin at Astana Arena on Sunday.

Mbappe's goalscoring record with Monaco and PSG has not quite been matched at international level, having managed 16 goals in 41 appearances for Les Blues.

But despite acknowledging that there is room for improvement from Mbappe, Deschamps does not believe the 22-year-old is low on confidence.

"He cannot be satisfied with what he has done so far," Deschamps said ahead of Wednesday's trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"He was not very leggy in the first game. He was much better off against Kazakhstan and had chances. Of course he wants to score more goals and create them."

Asked if the penalty miss against Kazakhstan has affected Mbappe, Deschamps said: "No, I don't feel it has. It happens to everyone. 

"I know Kylian well. He can, over a match or a period of time, have a spell of efficiency that is a little less good than usual."

Deschamps is spoiled for choice in terms of options across the field, not least in attack where Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman are battling for a starting spot.

Coman started the disappointing draw with Ukraine but was left out against Kazakhstan in favour of Dembele, who made the most of his chance with the opening goal.

"They are players somewhat in the same profile – yet they are not the same," Deschamps said. "They are both dribblers capable of taking opponents out of the game.

"Ousmane can speed past opponents and go fast without the ball. Kingsley can play both sides, even if he has a preference, just like Ousmane."

One player France will have to make do without against Bosnia-Herzegovina is defensive midfielder N'Golo Kante, who has returned to Chelsea with a hamstring injury.

"We know his importance," Deschamps said of Kante's absence. "When he is available, of course I prefer to have him in the team, and that is the same for his team-mates.

"He is an importance player for us, but he is not available on Wednesday and I have lots of other players." 

Mbappe is another fitness doubt for France after hobbling off against Kazakhstan, but Deschamps is not ruling the Manchester United forward out of the Bosnia match.

"Anthony has a little problem with his knee, but we cannot make a decision on his inclusion today," Deschamps said. 

"He is not at his best and will not participate in the training session tonight, but we will take stock tomorrow."

Ousmane Dembele is proving he is "on the right track" after the Barcelona winger scored in France's 2-0 defeat of Kazakhstan.

After drawing against Ukraine in their opening World Cup qualifier, the reigning world champions moved top of Group D in comfortable fashion on Sunday.

Dembele opened the scoring with a goal laid on by Martial, before Kazakhstan defender Sergiy Maliy put through his own net.

It marked France's seventh straight away win – their best run since January 1990 to October 1991.

Dembele, who has enjoyed a resurgence at Barca this season following several injury-hit campaigns at Camp Nou, was replaced by Kingsley Coman in the 90th minute, having created one chance and had two shots, both of which hit the target.

Martial teed up Dembele's goal – the only key pass played by the Manchester United forward, who had three attempts (two on target) before going off with an apparent injury in the 59th minute.

His replacement was Kylian Mbappe, and the Paris Saint-Germain star went on to have as many attempts as Martial, though one of those was a penalty he saw saved by Alexandr Mokin.

Asked for his thoughts on the displays of Dembele and Martial, Deschamps told a news conference: "They did some interesting things. 

"Ousmane confirmed that he is on the right track. He is capable of repeating efforts and of differing his play. He was rewarded with this goal. 

"Anthony is behind the first goal. It's good for both. From the moment I take them [in the squad] it is to use them. I have other attackers, but compared to the profile of the opponent, it was important to provoke and to dribble [at the opposition]. They did it pretty well."

Deschamps also stressed he has few concerns over France's somewhat laboured performances across their last two fixtures.

"Everyone is free to wait for what they want. The France team is efficient and continues to be," he said. 

"We do a lot of good things. There were no big scores [on Saturday] either. It is not easy for anyone. There is the opponent, the sequence of matches, plus everything that came before. These are not excuses. I told the players to do the job, to win. We won.

"There were nine new players from the match against Ukraine, but they already had experience. I'm not going to take away the credit. The qualifying games are always difficult, the main thing is to reach our goals."

Kylian Mbappe missed a second-half penalty but a much-changed France still coasted to a 2-0 win away to Kazakhstan in World Cup qualifying.

Les Bleus were punished for wasteful finishing in their opening Group D game against Ukraine on Thursday, allowing their opponents – who failed to manage a shot on target – to grab a 1-1 draw through Presnel Kimpembe's own goal.

However, there was to be no repeat on Sunday as the reigning champions registered a first win in Group D at the second attempt.

Ousmane Dembele gave the visitors a 19th-minute lead in Astana, accepting a pass from Anthony Martial before firing a low shot across goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin for a rare international goal.

Kazakhstan defended in stoic fashion for the remainder of the first half until unfortunately falling further behind just before the interval, France doubling their advantage thanks to an own goal.

Having impressively denied Martial from scoring with a superb last-gasp clearance, poor Sergiy Maliy – preoccupied with marking Paul Pogba – then headed the resulting corner into his net.

Antoine Griezmann – who, along with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, retained his place in the starting XI – had a goal ruled out for offside early in a second half that saw Martial forced off with an apparent injury sustained while playing on a synthetic surface.

Replacement Mbappe offered a far greater threat during a cameo appearance off the bench, including drawing a foul from the combination of Nuraly Alip and Temirlan Erlanov inside the area.

However, the Paris Saint-Germain forward was unable to capitalise on the opportunity from 12 yards out, Mokin guessing correctly as he dived to his left to turn away the spot-kick attempt.

What does it mean? Job done, despite laboured display

There may have been a concern that France were in danger of history being repeated when they struggled to build on Dembele's opener, despite controlling proceedings. They coasted in the second half too, yet still ended up having 15 shots – nine of which were on target.

Still, qualifying is about results, rather than performances. Considering the long journey and the artificial pitch, collecting three points was all that mattered.

Dembele shows Deschamps what he can do

Ahead of the trio of international fixtures in March, Deschamps had challenged the recalled Dembele to be a more consistent contributor, both for club and country.

The Barcelona forward certainly made a difference against Kazakhstan, moving into double figures for goals in the 2020-21 season when opening the scoring with a crisp finish.

Missed opportunity for Martial

Martial looked certain to grab just his second international goal from Thomas Lemar's chipped cross, yet Maliy stretched out a leg to somehow send the ball over the crossbar.

Instead of being able to celebrate scoring, he finished the game with concerns over his fitness. In 59 minutes, Martial completed 78.3 per cent of his attempted passes and had three shots, two of which were on target. There was also the assist for Dembele too, yet Mbappe was far more prominent following his introduction.

What's next?

Both teams are back in qualifying action on Wednesday. France have a trip to Sarajevo to take on Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Kazakhstan head on the road as they travel to Ukraine

It was not sealed in the fashion they would have hoped for, but Wales could belatedly celebrate Six Nations glory on Friday.

Wayne Pivac's side had missed the chance to claim a Grand Slam triumph last week in a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France.

But with France needing a bonus-point win by a 21-point margin in Friday's rearranged clash with Scotland - delayed due to an earlier COVID-19 outbreak - to deny Wales again, Les Bleus' loss in Paris handed them the title.

"It's a real emotional rollercoaster, the last seven days really," Wales head coach Pivac said on Saturday.

He added: "It was just different and that's what we've come to expect from this pandemic really.

"It was evident that we had to go and do something different and that was to watch us win a championship from our living room."

That was far from the only first in a tournament with its fair share of twists and turns, though, as Opta data shows.
 

MORE TRIES, MORE DRAMA

There were six tries in Friday's frantic affair at the Stade de France and that contributed to a new Six Nations record.

A total of 86 tries were scored across the 15 matches, the most in a single edition of the tournament in its history.

And Scotland's dramatic 27-23 success, sealed with an 80th-minute Duhan van der Merwe score, was a fitting end to the competition.

Eight of the 15 games were decided by margins of five points or fewer, another new benchmark.

"There were some great games," Pivac said. "It was just a shame we didn't have crowds. You can imagine how much of an atmosphere would have been generated.

"It was a good advertisement for the game and a lot of nations are heading in the right direction. It's exciting."

Van der Merwe beat two defenders in the decisive fixture and in doing so set a new tournament high of 31, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's 30 defenders beaten in 2000.

The wing's brace also saw him become the first Scotland player to finish a Six Nations campaign as the outright leading try scorer (five).

France needed to score at least one more try in order to have a chance of snatching the championship, but they still matched their best haul of 18 from 2006.

Not all the records were quite so impressive.

Italy conceded 239 points, 34 tries and had a points difference of -184, the worst such tallies for any team in an edition of the Six Nations.
 

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Wales' title was their sixth since Italy were introduced to the tournament to form the Six Nations in 2000.

Four of their previous five had been Grand Slam successes, a record over this period they could not extend thanks to France's epic win last week.

But Wales are now only one Six Nations crown behind England's seven.

"It gives us a lot of confidence to feel like we're on the right track," the title-winning coach said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves."

This was not a tournament England will reflect on fondly, even as captain Owen Farrell became only the third man - after Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson - to reach 500 points in the Five/Six Nations.

Eddie Jones' outfit came in as defending champions but slumped to their joint-worst Six Nations finish, coming fifth as they had in 2018.

England also lost against Ireland, Wales and Scotland in the same Five/Six Nations campaign for the first time since 1976.

At the bottom of the table, though, there was no change.

Italy have picked up the Wooden Spoon in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the championship just once in the prior four seasons.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe has revealed he was criticised in the early stages of his career for "not scoring enough goals and showing off".

The 22-year-old leads the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 20 goals in 25 appearances this term and has netted a further 10 in other competitions.

Mbappe has scored 120 goals in 160 outings for PSG overall since joining in August 2017 from Monaco, where he first made a name for himself at the age of 16.

But the French World Cup winner, who started his youth career with AS Bondy before moving on to Monaco, has admitted he was not always so prolific in front of goal.

"For a long time, in the youth teams, I was criticised for not scoring enough goals and showing off," he told UEFA. 

"In today's football, you have to score. And to score, you have to practice and work hard in training."

Mbappe has taken the advice on board and is now one of the most sought-after names in world football, regularly earning links to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"When you're in the rough, no one else can make you get up," he said. "You have to be mentally strong and do everything to understand that you can climb mountains. 

"When I go out on the pitch, I tell myself that I have to give my best to be the best possible.

"I'm someone with ambition - it's a scary term, but I see it more as not wanting to set limits. I try to push the limits as much as possible and I want to see where it can lead me."

Mbappe is currently away on international duty with France and played 77 minutes of Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Ukraine in his side's opening World Cup qualifier.

Despite that disappointing Group D draw, Les Blues are the favourites of many to go all the way in next year's finals in Qatar, four years on from their last triumph.

And Mbappe, who has 16 goals in 40 senior caps, is relishing the opportunity to add another World Cup to his collection in the month he turns 24.

"We want to win a second title," he said. "The World Cup is a culmination of effort, a goal that we work for over a long time. 

"I had the chance to win it at 19 and it's something that helped me progress in my career. There will be other competitions, but my ambition is to win a second World Cup."

Didier Deschamps acknowledges a five-hour time difference and a synthetic pitch will make life difficult for France in Kazakhstan, but believes the world champions "have an obligation to get a result".

Sunday's early World Cup qualifier takes Les Bleus to Astana four days on from a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Ukraine.

France can ill afford another slip up but face potentially tricky opponents in Kazakhstan, who have not yet played their first match but enjoyed their most successful European Championship qualifying campaign to date ahead of Euro 2020.

That included a dominant 3-0 home win over Scotland, who ultimately qualified for the finals, in which Kazakhstan had just 41 per cent of the possession but mustered 10 shots - including six on target - and their expected goals total (1.2) was double that of the visitors (0.6).

The jeopardy of Sunday's qualifier goes beyond just the threat of the hosts for France, however, as Deschamps' side also contend with travel, jetlag and an unfamiliar surface.

"With my staff, we know this opponent well," the coach told a news conference. "But the difficulty is the lag, because it can be difficult to find sleep, and a pitch different from those on which players are used to playing.

"It's up to us to make sure we're at our level. A trap? I don't know, but there are additional difficulties, yes."

 

Although Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland drew, meaning France lost no ground in midweek, a response is required following their frustrating outing in Paris.

Les Bleus had 63 per cent of the possession and 18 shots but only three on target, including Antoine Griezmann's spectacular opener.

Ukraine mustered a meagre three attempts, one of which decisively deflected in off Presnel Kimpembe for an own goal.

"Even with a better result, we would have had the same obligation [in Astana] against an opponent who has nothing to lose," Deschamps said.

"It's up to us to do the job, and more than pressure, we have an obligation to get a result.

"The pressure was greater in the Euro qualifiers, when we went to Andorra just after our defeat in Turkey, with the same specificity of the synthetic pitch.

"On what they have done in recent matches, Kazakhstan are solid and concede few goals. It's never simple anyway."

Meanwhile, captain Hugo Lloris highlighted the potential positives of playing on a synthetic pitch for a France side who trailed only Spain in passes (7,360), successful passes (6,571) and average possession (72 per cent) in Euro 2020 qualifying.

"It promotes the short passing game," he said. "We are going to try to get our bearings as best as we can in the training later [on Saturday].

"And tomorrow [Sunday] we'll try to play and have the maximum of fun.

"We expect a match like against Ukraine, to have the ball in front of a low block. We must put intensity in our passes, in our running.

"The use of the ball will be so important, so to adapt to the synthetic pitch will be very important for tomorrow."

France star Gael Fickou insists Les Bleus 'don't have to question everything' after missing out on the Six Nations title once again following their 27-23 loss to Scotland on Friday.

Les Bleus had to score four tries or more and win by a margin of at least 21 points to end their 11-year wait for the title but fell short in the final match of the Six Nations handing Wales their second crown in three years.

Fickou, who moved from inside centre to the wing and was named Player of the Match, was hugely disappointed to see France miss out on their first title since 2010 but said they did not need an overhaul.

“There were some good things and not so good things," Fickou said post-game.

"Of course, we're disappointed. It's a huge disappointment. We had a chance to win the match. We were facing a beautiful Scottish team.

"It was difficult. We could have done better. We can’t throw everything away. We don’t have to question everything."

The win was Scotland's first in France in 12 Tests, last winning in Paris 22 years ago, but Fickou explained the scenario played its part for Les Bleus.

“We were chasing the title, perhaps we got mixed up in some areas, we maybe wanted to score too quickly, we didn’t finish our attacks," he said.

“They held onto the ball well, they went through 50 phases, we were rushed, we wanted to score the 21 points. In the end, that cost us dear.”

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