France going for the win

France's attacking duo Kylian Mbappe (far left) and Antoine Griezmann having a playful tussle during training on Tuesday. The French need only a draw against the Netherlands to secure their berth in the Uefa Nations League Finals.
France's attacking duo Kylian Mbappe (far left) and Antoine Griezmann having a playful tussle during training on Tuesday. The French need only a draw against the Netherlands to secure their berth in the Uefa Nations League Finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Deschamps insists team will act like world champs against young, resurgent Dutch side

PARIS • Although the Nations League has divided opinion in its inaugural season as Uefa bids to move away from meaningless friendlies, France can book their place in the Finals of the competition today to add to their World Cup win.

A draw in Rotterdam against a resurgent Netherlands, who are coming off a 3-0 win over 2014 World Cup winners Germany and a 1-1 draw with World Cup semi-finalists Belgium last month, will be enough to seal qualification for the Finals in June next year.

France coach Didier Deschamps wants his players to start acting like the side that swept to glory in Russia, after having struggled to replicate their summer form with two draws in their last four games.

"We are going there for the win," Deschamps, who will not be able to draw on the services of the injured trio of Paul Pogba, Benjamin Mendy and Anthony Martial, warned the opposition ahead of their visit. "We are the world champions and we will behave like it."

Although Les Bleus beat Ronald Koeman's men 2-1 in their Nations League meeting in September, the Dutch are showing some signs of progress after several years of languishing in football's wilderness, culminating in their failure to qualify for Euro 2016 and June's World Cup.

The youthfulness of the Netherlands squad, who are marshalled by captain and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, have shown promise with particular attention being paid to rising Ajax stars Matthijs de Ligt, 19, and 21-year-old Frenkie de Jong.

Spanish champions Barcelona are reportedly keeping tabs on the pair, although van Dijk wants the Reds to steal a march on £50 million-rated (S$89.3 million) de Ligt.

"He will be on the lists because they have enough scouts at the club," he told Dutch daily De Telegraaf. "If they (Liverpool) need my opinion, I'll give it.

"He is already very far, especially for his age. A good defender, good boy, calm, knows what he wants and hopefully, he makes the right choice."

Van Dijk, however, believes he will be keeping sole possession of his title as the world's most expensive defender at £75 million given that de Ligt is still in the infancy of his career.

"They (clubs) will pay less for Matthijs," he said.

"The amount for me was very high. It's just like that and, if he ever becomes the most expensive defender, I'll be the first to congratulate him."

The incentive for the Dutch is clear - two wins, one against the French and the double over Germany on Monday, will see them progress to the Finals.

And, if de Ligt can shut out fellow 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, arguably the best young player in the world, his stock will surely rise further.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2018, with the headline 'France going for the win'. Print Edition | Subscribe