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France coach Deschamps has some choices to make

By JEROME PUGMIREJune 14, 2017
France's Ousmane Dembele, left, celebrates after scoring his side's 3rd goal while France's Kylian Mbappe looks on during their friendly soccer match between France and England at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, north of Paris, France, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
France's Ousmane Dembele, left, celebrates after scoring his side's 3rd goal while France's Kylian Mbappe looks on during their friendly soccer match between France and England at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, north of Paris, France, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — France coach Didier Deschamps has some choices to make, choices that many would envy.

Although France has played with a settled lineup since last year’s European Championship, where the team reached the final, the sheer weight of talent coming through is pushing Deschamps into a rethink.

He changed his forward line for a friendly match against England on Tuesday and the young players starred in a 3-2 win. Eighteen-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe combined effortlessly with 20-year-old right winger Ousmane Dembele, while 21-year-old left winger Thomas Lemar impressed with his crisp passing and work rate.

Forward Antoine Griezmann, the top scorer at Euro 2016, and left-sided attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet, one of France’s best players at that tournament, were hardly missed. Neither was right-sided attacking midfielder Moussa Sissoko, another Euro 2016 mainstay.

Although Griezmann is likely to keep his place for the crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands on Aug. 31, the other two have some worrying to do.

“I will analyze things in depth. I will have a studious summer,” said Deschamps, praising the impact made by the three youngsters. “When I pick players, it’s in their interest to play well. They did and it gives me something to think about.”

A glance at the France bench against England offers a further glimpse of the potential at hand.

Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette did not even come on. Neither did highly-rated midfielders Adrien Rabiot and Corentin Tolisso, who are both 22. Tolisso joined Bayern Munich on Wednesday for a Bundesliga-record of at least 41.5 million euros ($46.8 million).

Anthony Martial, a 21-year-old forward touted as France’s next big star when he joined Manchester United in January 2016, was overlooked by Deschamps for the England game. So was Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman, who is also 21. Both played at Euro 2016.

Meanwhile, Deschamps continues to ignore striker Karim Benzema, who recently won his third Champions League title with Real Madrid.

Few national sides are able to leave out so many talented players.

“It’s up to the coach to decide, but I think he’d rather have choices to make,” France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said.

Not since the 2006 World Cup, when playmaker Zinedine Zidane was playing alongside Arsenal great Thierry Henry and the emerging Franck Ribery, has France boasted such scoring potency. A quality also helped by the new fullbacks.

Veterans Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra, who played at Euro 2016, were reliable but did not carry a great attacking threat. They have been replaced by left back Benjamin Mendy and right back Djibril Sidibe — who both play for French champion Monaco.

Sidibe breaks forward and scored against England, while the fleet-footed Mendy combined well down the left with Lemar, his Monaco teammate. Mendy is the best crosser France has had at fullback since Bixente Lizarazu, who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

But most impressive among the new crop is Mbappe.

The young forward scored 26 goals for Monaco, and was not overawed against the best defenders in the Champions League. Monaco has been fending off offers of more than 120 million euros ($135 million) for him, with Real Madrid reportedly interested.

“We’re going to go away as a family and we’re going to think it over,” said Mbappe, who is represented by his father. “We’ll have to sort through things.”

The maturity of Mbappe’s game is astonishing for his age.

He can make runs from wide, using his electric pace and quick feet to cause mayhem cutting in from the left. When at center forward, he is equally good with his back to goal or running at defenders.

Mbappe is a lethal finisher and an excellent passer. He set up Dembele’s winner against England by using his upper-body strength to shrug off a defender before feeding him a cushioned pass into his stride.

“I feed off his qualities. Every time I lift my head up he’s making a run, and I know where to find him,” said Dembele, who is arguably quicker than Mbappe. “I have a really good understanding with Thomas and Kylian. We just play our own game, like we do for our clubs.”

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