France back on track as Netherlands close on Nations League finals


Kylian Mbappe starred as world champions France shrugged off injuries and off-field problems to beat Austria on Thursday, while the Netherlands won in Poland to close in on a place in next year’s UEFA Nations League finals.

France’s build-up to their defence of the World Cup in Qatar in November and December has been marred by fitness issues surrounding a host of key players as well as other worries, but Les Bleus did not appear distracted as they outclassed the Austrians in Paris, winning 2-0.

The recalled Olivier Giroud doubled their lead nine minutes later, heading in Antoine Griezmann’s cross to score his 49th international goal — he is now just two goals short of Thierry Henry’s French record.

“There are lots of positives to take from the game.”

Pogba has also been in the headlines after filing a complaint with Italian prosecutors saying he was the target of a 13 million-euro ($13m) blackmail plot.

Meanwhile this week began with Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe refusing to take part in a photo shoot in a row with the French Football Federation over image rights.

Just eight days shy of his 36th birthday, Giroud is France’s oldest ever goal-scorer.

Deschamps’ side still need to win their last Group A1 game away in Denmark on Sunday to be certain of avoiding relegation, while qualification for the four-team finals next June is already out of reach.

Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, are on course to top the section after beating Denmark 2-1 in Zagreb.

However, Croatia’s winner came just two minutes later through Lovro Majer.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands are well placed to advance to the finals from Group A4 after a 2-0 win away to Robert Lewandowski’s Poland in Warsaw.

“It was a big test for us. I am very satisfied with how we played,” said Dutch coach Louis van Gaal.

Group rivals Belgium beat Wales 2-1 in Brussels, with Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi scoring first-half goals before Kieffer Moore pulled one back.

However, having won 4-1 in Belgium in their last meeting, even a two-goal defeat would be enough for Van Gaal’s side to qualify for the four-team finals.

Spain and Hungary top the other two groups in League A before action continues on Friday, when Germany host the Hungarians while England face Italy in Milan.