Kylian Mbappé was elected as the new France national team captain by head coach Didier Deschamps last week, following former skipper Hugo Lloris’ retirement after the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The first tasks for the 24-year-old forward are to lead his country to overcome the opening two matches of the 2024 UEFA Euro Qualifiers and he was influential in France’s first outing in the campaign, contributing two goals and an assist in Les Bleus’ 4-0 win over Netherlands at home. Nonetheless, in the following qualifying game, the Paris-born megastar misfired and France needed a Benjamin Pavard screamer to overcome Ireland at enemy territory to take home all three points.
Pavard Made a Comeback to the National Team
The 27-year-old Bayern Munich right-back was among the three changes Deschamps made for his starting line-up that beat Oranje with ease last week, with the other two being Real Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga as well as the leading goal scorer for Les Bleus, AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud. On the other hand, 51-year-old manager Stephen Kenny retained half of his squad that edged past Latvia in an international friendly with a 3-2 score line in this clash.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup runner-up was rather quiet in the first half, and it had to wait until the second 45 minutes to open the score. Burnley’s 26-year-old midfielder Josh Cullen stopped a French build-up five minutes after the restart, but his subsequent pass was sloppy and intercepted by Pavard, who then fired the ball first-time. His emphatic strike beat Gavin Bazunu with pace and hit the crossbar before landing in the back of the Irish goal. The defender’s stunner reminded fans about his first international goal which came against Argentina in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Quarterfinal in Russia.
Motivated by Pavard’s incredible effort, France was hungry for more. In the 69th minute, the Irish defence stopped a series of great passes from its visitors, but Adrien Rabiot’s challenge won the ball back for Les Bleus. The Juventus player then sent a pass to Antoine Griezmann, who set up Moussa Diaby for a shot on target; Bazunu was readied to parry the strike away this time around. Rabiot decided to have a shot on his own 15 minutes before the added time, but the angle of the long-range effort was not difficult to save by the goalkeeper.
🦸♂️ Mike Maignan 🧤 pic.twitter.com/vGF97QzO21
— 433 (@433) March 27, 2023
Mike Maignan Ensured All Three Points for Les Bleus
The rest of the game saw the home side desperately looking for an equaliser and they came close in doing so, if it was not for French shot stopper Mike Maignan’s bravery. The AC Milan’s no. 16 first stopped a near-post attempt in the 84th minute by the Irish, before acrobatically saved a header off his own teammate during a corner. He would go on to fend off another heading effort in the following set-piece, this time parrying away Nathan Collins’ strike. The 27-year-old’s great showing allowed France’s one-nil advantage to prevail, making it six points out of six in the 2024 UEFA Euro Qualifiers so far.
Maignan A Worthy Replacement in Goalkeeping Duties
After losing both Lloris and Steve Mandanda to international retirements, Didier Deschamps certainly was in a worrying need of finding his next first option for the no. 1 role in the Les Bleus squad, and Maignan’s performance last night looked to have solved the 54-year-old’s concerns. During the post-match conference, the French head coach said: “It’s an exceptional stop. But I’m not surprised. I know what he is capable of doing. Hugo was also capable of such stops of his kind. Mike has all the qualities, the wingspan and the mind. He is a leader. There was already the penalty stopped against the Netherlands. But this stop is even more expensive.”
Deschamps also spoke about the return of Pavard to the French national team, stating that “He had a very complicated match at the beginning of the World Cup. He had been a starter in previous years. He played the first game and Jules [Koundé] took his place. After this goal, I told him that I was very happy for him. Despite his personal disappointment, he has always kept the state of mind”. The French players will return to club duties after this game, before playing Gibraltar and Greece in the next international break in June.