Karim Benzema lauded the qualities of Zinedine Zidane as a coach and a man after his decision to leave the top job at Real Madrid for a second time.

It was announced on Thursday that Zidane would depart the hot seat at the Santiago Bernabeu after a season in which Madrid failed to win a trophy.

However, Zidane did lead them to the LaLiga title in 2019-20 and Benzema, speaking while on international duty after his surprise recall for France, was full of praise for the 48-year-old.

"He's a very great coach, on a human level, he's the perfect man," he said.

"With me, he's magnificent. I'm disappointed that he is leaving Real, but that's how it is. Life goes on."

Madrid ended the last campaign with an 18-game unbeaten streak (W13 D5) in LaLiga – the longest current undefeated run of any team in the competition, and their best such spell without a loss within the same league campaign since March 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti (W15 D3).

Benzema was involved in 32 goals in LaLiga this season (23 goals and nine assists), representing his best tally in a single campaign in the league after surpassing the 2015-16 term (31 – 24 goals and seven assists).

That form put him back in Didier Deschamps' plans ahead of France's Euro 2020 campaign, which begins against Germany on June 15.

Benzema had been frozen out by Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

He is now ready and raring to go once again on the international stage, where he is particularly looking forward to teaming up with Kylian Mbappe.

Asked how the Paris Saint-Germain striker stacks up against the world's best, Benzema said: "I don't like to compare, but he's a young player, a phenomenon.

"I was able to train with him, we play in one touch, there is movement, he puts a lot of speed, he is skilful. He's a very, very good player. "

Benzema won the most recent of his 81 caps for France against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice in that 4-0 friendly victory to take his Les Bleus goal tally to 27.

Sevilla defender Jules Kounde admitted he could leave the LaLiga side in the off-season amid links with Manchester United.

Kounde has emerged as one of the most sought-after centre-backs in the transfer market after countryman Dayot Upamecano joined Bayern Munich and Ibrahima Konate agreed to swap RB Leipzig for Liverpool.

United have long been linked with a move for Kounde, who helped Sevilla to a fourth-placed finish in LaLiga this term, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Premier League giants reportedly eye a new partner for Harry Maguire.

The 22-year-old France international – also a reported target for the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Arsenal – said he wants to win trophies.

"Regarding my future, I may change this summer," Kounde told reporters as France prepare for Wednesday's international friendly against Wales, ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020.

"Nothing is for sure yet, I did not take a final decision.

"Obviously, my goal is to play one day in one of the greatest clubs to keep improving and to win trophies.

"Starting every year the season knowing that the goal is to win this or this trophy. I may move but for now, it is not the case."

United already boast captain Maguire – the most expensive defender in history – Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in defence, while Axel Tuanzebe has struggled for regular game time.

When comparing Kounde to Maguire, Lindelof and Bailly across domestic league action in 2020-21, the former ranks first in passing accuracy (90.11 per cent) and clean sheets (15).

Kounde is only second to Maguire in tackles (27 to 29), tackle success (55.6 to 58.6 per cent), interceptions (40 to 60), clearances (100 to 122), recoveries (100 to 122), duel success (60.7 to 65.7 per cent) and aerials won (102 to 135).

Didier Deschamps said Karim Benzema is free to open up about the talks that led to his surprise France recall in the future, but the head coach said details of such discussions will not come from him.

Benzema was last week named in France's squad for the delayed European Championship following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by Deschamps since 2015 having been embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

His recall followed another hugely impressive season for Madrid in which he scored 30 goals in all competitions, with 23 of those in LaLiga, trailing only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

Reporters quizzing Deschamps on Wednesday were keen to know what he and Benzema discussed prior to the decision to end the former Lyon star's international exile.

But Deschamps would not oblige such requests.

"Karim said how he felt, I said how I felt too," he told a media conference. "I understand you want details, but they won't come from me, not from Karim either, for the moment. 

"If he wants to, he can. My decision comes from the fact that everything went well. 

"I have a group to manage, he was in this group, he is there again, here is the situation."

Deschamps addressed the issue of vaccination, with every adult in France now able to book a slot to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and the bubble the squad will remain in to reduce the risk of catching the virus.

He said: "I am not a doctor. Today, there is no obligation or recommendation from UEFA. Vaccination remains a personal decision. Some players may have been vaccinated on their own.  

"We made sure to vaccinate all the staff, who are a little older than the players. We are not 100 per cent protected, but we are in a very strict health bubble.

"We will make sure to be as vigilant as possible. From the moment a player is positive, it's over, he's leaving the competition. We all did a test today, everyone is used to it." 

Karim Benzema has set his sights on winning Euro 2020 with France after being left "a little shocked" by his recall to the national side.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was last week named in France's squad for their upcoming European Championship campaign following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by Didier Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

Benzema's recall comes on the back of a campaign in which he scored 30 goals for Madrid in all competitions, 23 of those in LaLiga – behind only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

However, the prolific attacker's return to Les Bleus' setup came as a surprise, even after holding face-to-face talks with Deschamps prior to the squad being announced.

"It was a special day," he told L'Equipe. "I received a lot of messages, there were rumours. I was waiting like everyone else, in front of the TV. I was really happy.

"It happened really fast, it was a feeling of joy and pride. I remembered all the moments when I never gave up. It was a little shock, it's been a long time!"

Benzema accused Deschamps of "bowing to the pressure of a racist part of France" after he lost his place in the side, but the pair quickly buried the hatchet.

"Deschamps didn't tell me. We talked a lot, it was a long conversation, but he never said to me: 'You'll be at the Euros'," Benzema said.

"The only thing he said was that we'd taken a big step together and that we'd see.

"We were face-to-face. We hadn't seen each other since 2015. It was good to talk, I've always gotten on well with him, after three minutes everything was back to normal."

Benzema won the most recent of his 81 caps for France against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice in that 4-0 friendly victory to take his Les Bleus goal tally to 27.

He was absent for France's World Cup triumph in 2018 and is now eager to make up for lost time by firing his country to success at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, which begins next month.

"I want to win a trophy with the France team," he said. "Anyone can say: 'It's a dream to win the Euros'.

"But the question is how to win it? And I answer that with the squad that we have, we can win it."

France begin their Group F campaign with a meeting against Germany in Munich on June 15, before facing Hungary and reigning champions Portugal.

Deschamps can also call upon the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud in attack, the latter of whom Benzema previously fell out with.

Benzema suggested last year that Giroud's talent pales in comparison to his own, but the Madrid striker insists he has no problems with his international colleague.

"Olivier, I saw him during the Chelsea match. We spoke, it was relaxed. He congratulated me for my goal," he said.

"It was good vibes, it was cool. I have already played with him, it will be the same as before."

Mathieu Valbuena revealed he was not consulted by Didier Deschamps over the surprise recall of Karim Benzema to the France squad.

Real Madrid striker Benzema is due to stand trial in October regarding an allegation of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former France team-mate Valbuena over a sex tape.

The 33-year-old Benzema strenuously denies putting pressure on Valbuena to pay the alleged blackmailers, who were said to be threatening to release a video featuring the former Marseille and Lyon player.

Since the claims of blackmail emerged in late 2015, Benzema was dropped from the France squad and looked to have no future with Les Bleus, at least until his case was heard in court.

However, a surprise recall came on Tuesday when Benzema was selected for France's Euro 2020 squad, and he looks set for a key role in the team during that tournament.

Valbuena told RMC Sport: "Did the coach call me? No, and I don't expect anything from anyone. When you're at the top, everyone is talking about you; when you disappear a little from the radars, you expect nothing from anyone.

"I make my life, I enjoy myself on the pitch. I expect nothing from Didier or anyone else. If you want to know if he called me, I say no."

Now with Greek club Olympiacos, Valbuena, 36, also last played for France in 2015.

The 52-cap midfielder said he understood why Benzema was being brought back into Deschamps' squad.

"If he can bring more to the France team, so much the better for the Blues," Valbuena said.

"It will play out on the pitch. For me, Didier Deschamps comes out the winner in all cases. If the France team works, we will say that he had to adapt despite a difficult context.

"If France performs less, we will not blame him. That's what he knows how to do well, he knows how to make his squads. In attack, he has no guarantees, he made his choices. I think he will come out a winner either way."

Benzema scored a brace in a friendly against Armenia on his last appearance for France in October 2015.

His form for Real Madrid has often been exceptional in the years since, landing him three Champions Leagues and two LaLiga titles during his absence from the France squad.

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."

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