Tuesday, December 5, 2023

France dominance continues as Kylian Mbappe books UEFA Euro 2024 berth after sixth straight qualifying win

France have been on a collective mission since their agonizing FIFA 2022 World Cup final penalty loss to Argentina with Didier Deschamps’ men marching straight through UEFA Euro 2024 qualification. Les Bleus confirmed their Germany appearance for next summer on Friday with a 2-1 win away in the Netherlands to make it six wins from six games in Group B thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s double.

The French now cannot be caught for a place in the top two and are unlikely to be reeled in by Greece who are running them closest for top spot given the six-point gap between them. With the exception of a meaningless friendly defeat to next year’s German hosts last month, France look like to early team to beat based on their 2023 form of six wins from seven games so far with two left.

Deschamps’ side produced another focused and polished display in Amsterdam to seal qualification in the same manner with which they started — a convincing win over Ronald Koeman’s Oranje. Such is Les Bleus’ strong momentum since Qatar that even Mbappe’s recent drought did not apply against the Dutch with the Paris Saint-Germain ending a run of four outings without scoring at club level.

Jonathan Clauss teed up the skipper’s first inside the opening 10 minutes while Adrien Rabiot provided the assist for Mbappe’s masterful finish for the second which was bent in beautifully from the edge of the box. The 24-year-old’s six goals — an average of one per game — have paced the French all qualification period and he nearly bettered it with a late effort off the crossbar.

It was not all perfect for France, though, as Quilindschy Hartman’s goal in the 84th minute ended their impressive defensive streak at five games without conceding. The last goals conceded by Deschamps’ players came in Lusail with Lionel Messi scoring two and Angel Di Maria another while Mbappe scored all three for Les Bleus to eventually force the heartbreak of penalties.

The French looked rocky at the back, once the Netherlands pulled one back but they hung on to seal victory and the three points needed to get them to Germany in the shortest possible time. After the upset of losing a final on home soil against Portugal in 2016 and completely flopping four years later with a round of 16 spot kick loss to Switzerland, France seem primed to finally make up for it.

Fitting, then, that joining them in booking their flights to Germany are 2016 winners Portugal who needed two Cristiano Ronaldo goals to beat Slovakia 3-2 for seven wins from seven in Group J. Roberto Martinez’s allowed themselves to be dragged into a dramatic finish after leading 2-0 with Goncalo Ramos scoring first, but they too cannot drop out of the top two in their pool.

The Portuguese group houses six nations instead of five so one more victory was necessary with three games remaining. However, Luxembourg in third need 10 points to reach Portugal so they can only hope to catch up with Slovakia to make it through alongside Ronaldo and his teammates who have outscored France yet also conceded marginally more goals on their route to Germany.

Martinez’s former side, Belgium, also made it into the hat on Friday with a 3-2 win away in Austria creating an insurmountable 10-point gap on Sweden who will find it hard enough to overhaul the Austrians with three games left to make up a seven-point difference. Ralf Rangnick’s hosts did threaten a comeback but Romelu Lukaku’s 58th minute strike did it for Domenico Tedesco’s men.

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