Six games, six wins, 13 goals scored, one conceded. France became one of the first teams to qualify for Euro 2024, along with Belgium and Portugal, on Friday night with two games left, and Kylian Mbappé is showing he’s made to be captain.
It was another controlled and efficient performance from Didier Deschamps’ France as they won 2-1 against Netherlands in Amsterdam. The Dutch were missing Frenkie de Jong and Cody Gakpo, but France had to do without some key stars too — Dayot Upamecano, William Saliba and Ousmane Dembélé included — and they were rarely put under pressure by the hosts, until the last 10 minutes when Quilindschy Hartman pulled a goal back.
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Once again, the main difference-maker was Mbappé. It had been a funny old few weeks for the captain. Mbappé linked up with his national team on the back of four consecutive games without a goal for Paris Saint-Germain, his longest drought since joining the club in August 2017. He was also heavily criticised for his poor performance at the 4-1 defeat at Newcastle United in the Champions League. On Wednesday, he learned that a close friend had passed away in Bondy, where he grew up, in the northern suburbs of Paris, and he left the France HQ in Clairefontaine to visit the grieving family. He paid tribute to his friend by pointing his fingers, arms stretched towards the sky, after each goal at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Now Mbappé is back doing what he does best: scoring goals. And scoring against the Dutch. The first came from a good cross by Jonathan Clauss from the right-hand side, which he volleyed in from close range after just seven minutes, completing a magnificent team move with 23 passes and 72 seconds of continuous possession. The second arrived through a beautiful curling effort on the half volley after a one-two with Adrien Rabiot.
Mbappé made his debut for his country in March 2017 at 18 years old and scored his first goal in September of the same year against Netherlands. He loves playing and scoring against the Oranje: he netted in the reverse fixture earlier this year and another in 2018 too.
The brace took him to 42 international goals, overtaking Michel Platini in France’s history books into fourth place behind Antoine Griezmann (44), Thierry Henry (51) and Olivier Giroud (54), and he has supplied 25 assists in his 72 caps.
With just over two months to go until his 25th birthday, Mbappé’s stats dwarf those of any other France internationals. Giroud was 31 years old with 31 goals by the time he won his 72nd cap. Karim Benzema was 26 years and eight months, and he only had 23 goals and 16 assists. Henry was 28, with 29 goals and 25 assists. Even the great Zinedine Zidane was 29, with 18 goals and 19 assists.
Mbappé’s efficiency (0.58 goals per game) for France is exceptional. He is going to smash Giroud’s record as France’s all-time top goal scorer. And at this rate, he should also overtake Hugo Lloris’ record of 145 appearances as the most-capped player.
It was a typical Deschamps win: solid and effective but not amazing or impressive. Nevertheless, France have now qualified for their 15th major tournament in a row, a fantastic achievement, with the 1994 World Cup the last time they were left at home. And in those 14 competitions, they have reached the final in six of them, winning three (two World Cups and a Euros).
In Germany next summer, they will be among the favourites again, especially with Mbappé part of the squad. Mbappé felt like the most obvious choice when Lloris retired from international football after the World Cup in Qatar. He has won his first six games as France captain (he was an unused substitute in the friendly defeat to Germany last month), a feat only matched by Marcel Desailly in 1999.
Les Bleus won the 2018 World Cup after losing the final of the Euros two years earlier. In the dressing room after the win in Amsterdam on Friday, some players were discussing the ambition to do it again, but this time after having lost the 2022 World Cup final to Argentina. They want to use that disappointment as a catalyst to win the Euros. And it will be hard to bet against them and against Mbappé.