By Alasdair Howworth, CNN
After a few months in the French national team camp, there were plenty of positives to overcome in France’s 2-0 victory over Austria in the Nations League Group A on Thursday.
A powerful shot from Kylian Mbappe and a header from Olivier Giroud were enough to see Didier Deschamps’ side overtake Austria at the bottom of their group in the Nations League as the world champions seek to avoid relegation in the competition after a dismal campaign.
In front of the raucous crowd at the Stade de France, the French national team dominated from start to finish.
Mbappe’s goal was disallowed for offside in the second minute and Aurelien Chuamini came close twice in the first half.
The Real Madrid midfielder fired a long-range shot over the bar in the 12th minute, and just half an hour later, Chuamini came close to scoring one of the year’s goals when his bicycle kick was superbly directed towards goal. Bar by Austrian goalkeeper Patrick Bentz.
The hosts continued to dominate after the break, with Mbappe in particular looking at his best – and it was the PSG striker who broke the deadlock in the 56th minute with a powerful shot from inside the penalty area after a French counter-attack. .
Just 10 minutes later, Giroud sealed the win with a gentle header from Antoine Griezmann’s cross. The goal makes Giroud France the oldest goalscorer ever in its history at the age of 35 years and 357 days, as well as lifting the AC Milan striker’s tally by just two goals above the French record of 51 goals set by Thierry Henry.
Deschamps was optimistic after the match about his team’s performance.
“We did what we had to do,” he said. “Our intentions were good, everyone defended a lot, there are a lot of positives. The mentality was good, it was a very good performance.”
The former World Cup winner will need to take as many positives as possible.
Just two months into the World Cup, the national team is missing a host of players including: Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Lucas, Theo Hernandez and Karim Benzema. Things got worse when both Mike Minnan and Jules Conde were forced out of the match due to injuries.
The injury crisis is just one of the many problems Deschamps faces as he looks to retain the World Cup in Qatar.
Only on Tuesday did Mbappe decline to participate in a photo session with some of the team’s sponsors as part of an ongoing issue over image rights. The Paris Saint-Germain star was eventually appeased and took part after the French Football Federation promised him it would look into the case.
This – combined with the ongoing problems faced by Pogba, whose brother has been arrested on charges of blackmailing the Juventus midfielder – has put unnecessary pressure on France ahead of the World Cup that will be among the favorites to win.
Things weren’t so rosy in this area either. The Nations League champions made a shocking start to their group as they only racked up two draws and two losses in four matches before winning on Thursday.
France are one point ahead of Austria in the relegation zone as they enter the group final, and France will look to build on momentum from last night’s match as they head to Denmark, who are one point behind group leaders Croatia.
The world champion has had a bad year so far, but if he can finish his World Cup preparations on the field on a positive note, his woes may fade off the field as well.
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