Kylian Mbappe scored a stunning opening goal as France shook off injuries to a host of key players and a series of problems off the pitch to claim a welcome 2-0 win over Austria on Thursday in the UEFA Nations League in Paris.
Mbappe showed his phenomenal speed and strength along the way before finishing emphatically to put the reigning world champions ahead in the 56th minute at the Stade de France.
The recalled Olivier Giroud doubled their lead nine minutes later as France ran out of deserved winners to avert the threat of relegation from the top division of the Nations League, a game they won last year.
Didier Deschamps’ squad must win their last group A1 game in Denmark on Sunday to ensure relegation, while qualification for the four-team final in June is already out of reach.
The reason for this is that France failed to win one of their four games in June, but the priority for Les Bleus is now the World Cup, with the first game of their title defense in Qatar exactly two months away.
In any case, Deschamps hopes to have recovered the majority of his bad stars by the time the game against Australia takes place on November 22.
Those missing from this match would make a very strong team in their own right, with the absent including goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris; central defenders Lucas Hernandez and Presnel Kimpembe; left back Theo Hernandez; midfield pivot N’Golo Kante and striker Kingsley Coman.
Karim Benzema is also out at the moment, and then there’s Paul Pogba, who will be racing against the clock to recover from knee surgery.
Pogba was also in the headlines after he filed a complaint with Italian prosecutors, saying he was the target of a 13 million euro ($13 million) blackmail scheme.
His brother Mathias is one of five people charged and detained in the case.
Giroud closes on goal record
Meanwhile, this week kicked off with Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappé refusing to take part in a photo shoot in a row with the French Football Federation over image rights.
But neither Mbappe nor his teammates seemed distracted as they outclassed Austria.
Mbappe had the ball in the net within 90 seconds, but was denied by the offside flag and he posed a constant threat throughout the first half.
France should have led at halftime, but Austria had goalkeeper Patrick Pentz to thank for a sensational double save in the 35th minute.
Pentz tipped Aurelien Tchouameni’s acrobatic overhead kick to the crossbar, then went low to save Antoine Griezmann’s follow-up attempt.
Before that, the hosts – who made their debut to Monaco centre-back Benoit Badiashile and his club colleague, midfielder Youssouf Fofana – saw their injury concerns heightened as Jules Kounde stumbled from Barcelona.
Goalkeeper Mike Maignan also came out at half-time to be replaced by West Ham United’s Alphonse Areola, with France taking the lead shortly after.
Mbappé collected a Giroud pass on the left before storming in, bouncing on Austrian Marcel Sabitzer and hitting a shot past Pentz.
He celebrated by imitating a photographer, an apparent nod to the awkward dispute over image rights.
Giroud then marked his return to the side by heading in a cross from Griezmann to make it 2-0 with his 49th international goal.
He is now just two short of Thierry Henry’s French record of 51.