Soccer-France already firing on all cylinders as new chapter begins

Soccer Football - UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifiers - Group B - France v Netherlands - Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France - March 24, 2023 Netherlands' Memphis Depay misses a chance to score from the rebound after missing from the penalty spot REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - With key players having retired from international football, France, still reeling from their heartbreaking loss in the World Cup final, faced a serious test against the Netherlands on Friday and they passed it with flying colours.

Forward Karim Benzema, keeper and captain Hugo Lloris and influential centre back Raphael Varane all quit Les Bleus, leaving Kylian Mbappe with the skipper's armband in their Euro 2024 Group B qualifier.

The Paris St Germain forward led by example in Friday's 4-0 drubbing of a virus-hit Dutch side, netting a double as new number one keeper Mike Maignan and the renewed central defence featuring Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano proved unbreakable.

Mbappe also set up Antoine Griezmann for the opening goal, soothing the Atletico Madrid player's disappointment after he was only named vice-captain.

"He (Mbappe) was great from start to finish, he got his team mates to play, he scored goals, he defended, he helped us as he always does," said Aurelien Tchouameni.

Eduardo Camavinga added: "His attitude hasn't changed, he's still the same, we're very happy that he scored that double. He scores all the time, it doesn't surprise me anymore but the most important thing is that he hasn't changed, with or without the armband, he's the same."

It was also a satisfying night for coach Didier Deschamps, whose job it is to get the new generation to gel - not an easy task for the 54-year-old, who can sometimes feel disconnected from the youngsters.

"The young generation, I take their positive sides," he told reporters.

"Sometimes they want everything right away, they want to take over quickly. But they go to big clubs aged only 18 or 19 so obviously they learn fast.

"When they sing their songs in the dressing room, I don't get it. But we are the ones who have to adapt to them, not the other way around."

Deschamps wasted no time in installing Konate and Upamecano, 23 and 24 respectively, in central defence.

He was also quick to trust Randal Kolo Muani, who has burst into the limelight in the Bundesliga following a convincing appearance in the World Cup final, even if he missed a last-gasp chance to win the match in extra time against Argentina.

Kolo Muani did not score on Friday, but his movement, appetite for space and ability to find his attacking partners was there for everyone to see and he is likely to become France's first-choice lone forward.

France next face Ireland in Dublin on Monday.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)

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