DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Kylian Mbappé’s goals he led defending champion France to the knockout round of the World Cup. The return of Raphael Varane gave the French team an additional reason to celebrate.
The sadness of injuries before the tournament are fading, Les Bleus are feeling upbeat again and see themselves as one of the tournament favourites.
Mbappe’s two goals in Saturday’s 2-1 win against Denmark helped the French become the first defending World Cup champions to reach the round of 16 since Brazil in 2006.
France’s night was made even better with the return of Varane to the center of defence. It was the first game for the stylish defender since he limped off in tears after picking up a hamstring injury while playing for Manchester United. on October 11.
There were genuine fears that his World Cup could end or that he would not be fit enough to play in Qatar.
But his 88th appearance with Les Bleus went off without a hitch.
“I am very happy, very satisfied to be here. I have worked very hard and I enjoyed it a lot”, said Varane after the match. “It is always special to play a World Cup, to play for your country. I’m making the most of it.”
His reassuring presence, exceptional reading of the game and strong heading ability were on display at Estadio 974, where he played alongside Dayot Upamecano.
Varane was without apparent discomfort for 75 minutes before coach Didier Deschamps gave him a breather ahead of France’s final Group D match against Tunisia on Wednesday.
With France already done, it’s a low-pressure game that gives Deschamps the chance to try another central defensive partnership with Varane alongside Ibrahima Konate, who played in the 4-1 win against Australia..
Then Deschamps can decide which pairing he prefers for the round of 16.
It was a relief for Deschamps to see Varane come out of a physical encounter unscathed, even more so because he is missing so many stars.
Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema; Key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante; central defender Presnel Kimpembe, left back Lucas Hernándezand striker Christopher Nkunku were out of the World Cup with injuries.
So it would have been a crushing blow for Deschamps to lose Varane, his best defender when France won the 2018 World Cup and a highly respected member of the team.
Luck could be turning France’s way, with Theo Hernandez replacing his injured brother at left-back and setting up Mbappe’s first goal against Denmark after a deft double with the PSG star, who has three goals in the tournament.
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