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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Auditioning for Antoine: Mbappe, Dembele, Martial, Giroud and Ben Yedder all bid to star alongside Griezmann

France take on Colombia in Paris, or on Tuesday, when they meet Russia in Saint Petersburg

French forwards Ousmane Dembele, left, jokes with Kylian Mbappe before a training session in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris. Franck Fife / AFP
French forwards Ousmane Dembele, left, jokes with Kylian Mbappe before a training session in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris. Franck Fife / AFP

The list of club employers is its own recommendation, and guarantees a few of France’s strikers will be carrying freshly minted medals by the time they set their sights on the World Cup. Kingsley Coman will have picked up his latest Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. Kylian Mbappe will have his second successive Ligue 1 gold, now he is at Paris Saint-Germain, while Ousmane Dembele is heading for a Spanish title in this his first season at Barcelona.

There are their price-tags, too, the huge fees that have been paid for the young French colts in line for a World Cup adventure with France. Dembele cost Barcelona over €100 million (Dh453m) of the money they received for the sale of Neymar last summer, and their fee to Borussia Dortmund might rise, with add-ons, by another €40m.

Mbappe, on loan from Monaco to PSG at the moment, will make the move permanent this year, at a cost to the Paris club approaching €180m. Those prices almost make the summer when Anthony Martial moved, to gasps from around the sport, from Monaco to Manchester United for a fee with a ceiling of €80m, look like an age of austerity.

Martial smashed the transfer record for a teenager in 2015. He is 22 now and would acknowledge that not only has he been eclipsed by compatriots as the most exciting young attacking talent from France but that so plentiful are the resources that national team manager Didier Deschamps can call on as he designs his forward line for Russia 2018, Martial is close to the margins. The United player has had some thrilling spells this season, but also some quiet periods. He hopes he will have opportunities to impress Deschamps either on Friday, as France take on Colombia in Paris, or on Tuesday, when they meet Russia in Saint Petersburg.

Part of the objective for the coach is to clarify who might act as the most successful partner up front for his senior striker, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. The options extend well beyond the talented, high-priced teens and twentysomethings. Also auditioning as Antoine’s sidekick are Olivier Giroud, whose January transfer from Arsenal to Chelsea seems to have put a fresh spring into his step. Giroud’s spring is a special, valued asset: he is strong in the air. And he has valuable experience, at 31, on the verge of his 70th cap, and chasing his 30th international goal.

Griezmann spent some of Wednesday underplaying, in front of reporters, his perceived status as the first name of Deschamps’ teamsheet. “These same questions seem to come around often,” he said of inquiries about his importance to France, “about whether I’m the boss, the leader. I don’t focus on that. I just want to feel free and happy. What is true is that I have gained experience, from the 2014 World Cup and from Euro 2016.” In that tournament, Griezmann led the line for the silver medallists.

Name Age Caps Goals
Kylian Mbappe 19 10 1
Ousmane Dembele 20 7 1
Anthony Martial 22 17 1
Olivier Giroud 31 69 29
Wissam Ben Yedder 27 0 0

His importance at Atletico Madrid is unquestioned and Deschamps recognises Griezmann may be the most coveted footballer in Russia, given that Cristiano Ronaldo is now reaching his mid-30s and Messi is deemed untransferable. The hope is that speculation over Griezmann’s club future does not distract him and that he feels, in the blue jersey of his country, the "freedom" he spoke of.

Deschamps has noted how Griezmann has thrived for Atletico since Diego Costa joined the Spanish club in January, holding the ball up, making space for the Frenchman. Giroud has assets to offer in that regard. Mbappe, meanwhile, has his pace, dribbling and strength, and an ability to attack from the right flank, stretching the play for Griezmann. Dembele, who has come back from injury with some impressive displays on the right of Barcelona’s attack, offers that too.

And into the mix, there’s an unlikely late joker in Deschamps’s pack. Wissam Ben Yedder is 27, with no senior France caps, except in futsal, the indoor form of the game. But recent performances for Sevilla, particularly in the Uefa Champions League, have intrigued Deschamps. Ben Yedder’s ninth and tenth goals in Europe so far this season knocked Martial’s United out of that competition last week - and he was a late substitute when he delivered them. “He has that ability to impact straight away,” says France’s manager, after calling up the nimble striker.

Griezmann has also made encouraging remarks – “he makes the most of tight spaces, and of the chances he gets” – and Ben Yedder will know that counts for a lot in these final weeks of auditions.

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