By Alasdair Howorth, CNN
After a torrid few months in the French national team camp, there were plenty of positives to take away from France’s 2-0 win over Austria in Nations League Group A on Thursday.
A powerful strike from Kylian Mbappé and a trademark header from Olivier Giroud were enough to see Didier Deschamps’ side leapfrog Austria at the bottom of its Nations League group as the world champion seeks to avoid relegation in the competition after a dismal campaign.
In front of a raucous Stade de France crowd, Les Bleus dominated from start to finish.
Mbappé had a goal disallowed for offside in the second minute and Aurélien Tchouaméni came close twice in the first half.
The Real Madrid midfielder had a long-range strike fly just over the bar in the 12th minute, and just after the half-hour mark, Tchouaméni came close to scoring one of the goals of the year when his bicycle kick was superbly tipped onto the bar by Austrian debutant goalkeeper Patrick Pentz.
The home side continued to dominate after the break, with Mbappé in particular looking at his sensational best — and it was the Paris Saint-Germain forward who broke the deadlock in the 56th minute with a powerful drive from just inside the box following a French counterattack.
Just 10 minutes later, Giroud sealed the victory with a cute glancing header off an Antoine Griezmann cross. The goal makes Giroud France’s oldest ever goalscorer at 35 years and 357 days, as well as taking the Milan forward’s tally just two behind Thierry Henry’s all-time French record of 51.
Deschamps was bullish 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 mindset was good, it was a very good performance.”
And the former World Cup winner will need to take as many positives as he can.
Just a couple months out from the World Cup, the national side is missing a host of players including: Hugo Lloris, Rafaël Varane, Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kanté, Lucas and Theo Hernández and Karim Benzema. Things were made worse when both Mike Maignan and Jules Koundé were forced off in the match with injuries.
The injury crisis is only one of many problems facing Deschamps as he looks to retain the World Cup in Qatar.
Only on Tuesday, Mbappé refused to participate in a photoshoot with some of the team’s sponsors as part of an ongoing problem over image rights. The Paris Saint-Germain star was eventually placated and participated after being promised by the French Football Federation that they would look into the issue.
This — coupled with the ongoing problems facing Pogba, whose brother was detained for the alleged extortion of the Juventus midfielder — has put unnecessary pressure on France ahead of a World Cup which it will be among the favorites to win.
Things have not been rosy on the field either. The Nations League champion had a dreadful start in its group in which it only mustered two draws and two losses in four matches prior to victory on Thursday.
A point ahead of Austria in the relegation zone going into the final game of the group, France will look to build on the momentum from last night’s match as it heads to Denmark who is only a point behind group leader Croatia.
The world champion has had a poor year so far, but if it can end its World Cup preparations on the pitch positively, maybe its problems off the pitch will fade as well.
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