France's surprise 2-1 loss to Denmark in the opening game of their Nations League title defence was down to a lack of sharpness, according to assistant boss Guy Stephan.

Substitute Andreas Cornelius scored twice for Denmark in Friday's contest at Stade de France, where Les Blues had taken the lead through Karim Benzema's 51st-minute strike.

The defeat is France's first inside 90 minutes in a competitive game on home soil since losing 1-0 to Spain in March 2013.

It is also the first time the reigning World Cup winners have lost a game in which they have led since going down 3-2 to Colombia in a friendly a little over four years ago.

And at the end of a long season, France coach Stephan – filling in for Didier Deschamps, who is mourning the passing of his father – believes fatigue played a big part.

"We knew that Denmark were a good team, with a very good structure," Stephan told M6. 

"Without looking for an excuse, we're coming to the end of a season in which the players have played a lot. I have nothing to blame them for.

"It was a match between two good teams. We had some good spells and some less good spells.

"We just needed some freshness to be able to express ourselves and we didn't have that today."

 

The hosts had 19 shots to Denmark's eight, yet Cornelius' double – making him the first substitute to score twice against France – earned his side a shock win in Paris.

Cornelius volleyed in from a fine Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg pass for his opener and then thumped a winner past Hugo Lloris at his near post two minutes from time.

"There are never good times to suffer defeats," Lloris told M6. "There's still a long time to go until the World Cup, though of course it's never good to start a campaign with a defeat.

"We fell against a good, well-organised team. At 1-0 we had chances for a second, but we were so committed to the attack that there were also risks that Denmark exploited."

France replaced Kylian Mbappe with Christopher Nkunku at half-time, which Stephan confirmed was a precautionary measure after the Paris Saint-Germain star injured his knee.

Raphael Varane also hobbled off in the second half and will undergo a scan on his thigh ahead of Monday's trip to Croatia in Les Blues' second Group A1 outing.

Deschamps is set to return to the France camp on Saturday ahead of that game, which takes on added importance following Croatia's 3-0 loss to Austria elsewhere on Friday.

Andreas Cornelius struck twice in the second half as France's Nations League title defence began with a shock 2-1 loss to Denmark in Paris.

France took the lead through Karim Benzema at the Stade de France, the venue where he lifted the Champions League with Real Madrid six days earlier, but they were unable to see out the win.

Trabzonspor striker Cornelius volleyed in a delightful equaliser and then fired in a winner two minutes from time to stun France, who lost Kylian Mbappe to a first-half injury.

Denmark join Austria, who beat Croatia 3-0 elsewhere on Friday, at the top of Group A1.

The visitors enjoyed a near-perfect campaign in qualifying for Qatar 2022, where they will meet France in the group stage, and started the brighter in this contest.

Kasper Dolberg got in behind the home defence inside the first three minutes and picked out Joakim Maehle, who hit the outside of the post with the angle against him.

France soon grew into the game, with Benzema having a goal-bound shot blocked by Jannik Vestergaard and a low strike past Kasper Schmeichel ruled out for offside.

Mbappe sustained an injury shortly before half-time and played no part after the break, but Didier Deschamps' men did not require long to open the scoring in the second half.

Benzema played a one-two with Mbappe's replacement Christopher Nkunku, took the ball past three opposition players and slid the ball away from Schmeichel for the 51st-minute opener.

Les Blues did not build on that lead, however, as Cornelius flashed a first-time finish past Hugo Lloris in the 68th minute with the side of his boot after being spotted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

N'Golo Kante hit the post with a curled effort, but it was Cornelius who had the final say in Paris with a thumping finish into the roof of the net at Lloris' near post.

Kylian Mbappe was forced off the field at half-time in France's Nations League opener against Denmark on Friday.

The striker, who last month signed a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain despite interest from Real Madrid, sustained a knee injury towards the end of the goalless first half.

He pulled up with nobody around him and did not return to field for the start of the second period, with Christopher Nkunku introduced in his place.

Mbappe limping down the tunnel would have been a concern for Didier Deschamps, whose side have three more Nations League games to come in the next 10 days.

However, Deschamps' assistant Guy Stephan confirmed to French outlet M6 that the substitution was purely precautionary.

Mbappe watched the second half from the substitutes' bench at Stade de France with his leg heavily strapped.

Roberto Mancini vowed to start a new era with Italy as the Azzurri look to rediscover their Euro 2020 magic, but warned not to expect instant fixes as he cannot "invent players".

Italy lifted the European Championship last July, their first since 1968, with a penalty shoot-out victory over England at Wembley.

The Azzurri followed that up by failing to make a second straight World Cup, following play-off defeat to North Macedonia in March, which led to questions over coach Mancini's tenure.

Development problems were also cited with the Italian system, which was bemoaned for struggling to produce younger players for the national team with Serie A coaches reluctant to trust the youth.

Italy were 3-0 losers to Argentina in the 'Finalissima' on Wednesday, a meeting between the Euro 2020 winners and Copa America champions, and Mancini promised change after that game.

The former Manchester City coach reiterated his desire for new beginnings with Italy, although he does not expect quick solutions ahead of the Nations League opener at home to Germany on Saturday.

"The victory of the European Championship is part of the magic that are part of those tournaments. Now we have to start again and go back to that magic," he told reporters on Friday.

"I have never had this type of problem. In football, however, when you win everyone is with you and when you lose almost everyone against you. That's how it is.

"Against Argentina we paid for the loss of players, one after the other. We weren't such a huge group and the injuries affected us: Argentina were better than us, they had fresher players and maybe it's the first game in three and a half years where we find a team that has put us under pressure, even if we made two mistakes on goals in the first half.

"It takes time, we cannot invent players and we know that we will have to suffer enough.

"The restart is from now. The new cycle starts again from tomorrow.

"The common thread is the same: looking for players with quality, speed, who they will not be like [Marco] Verratti and Jorginho who played in certain teams and therefore it will take a little longer.

"If we can give some minutes to these guys who have never played in the national team, and see them integrated well, it would be better."

Italy host Germany and Hungary before visiting England on June 11, with a return trip to Hansi Flick's side three days later capping off the internationals for this month.

Mancini believes that England and Germany pose two of the toughest tasks in international football at the moment, and cited Brazil, France and Argentina among the favourites for the World Cup in Qatar.

"We face the two strongest teams at the moment, Germany and England," he added. "They are among the best, they have great players and we take a lot of risks by changing a lot, it could be a good start.

"The most important thing will be to defend well and attack better. We face one of the strongest teams in the world along with Brazil, Argentina, France...

"Germany are technical, very fast when they counter-attack and come to press. They will be among the favourites for the World Cup victory in Qatar.

"We must defend all together and attack and press as we did for three and a half years: we did it for three and a half years with players who didn't seem able to do it, yet they have done."

Eduardo Camavinga hopes to see French compatriot Aurelien Tchouameni join him at Real Madrid after his own impressive debut campaign in the Spanish capital.

Camavinga adapted very quickly after signing from Rennes at the beginning of the season, playing an important role in midfield as Los Blancos claimed LaLiga, the Supercopa de Espana and the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Tchouameni continues to be linked with a move away from Monaco, and Madrid are reportedly among the prime suitors.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Camavinga threw his weight behind a similar move from Ligue 1 to the Santiago Bernabeu for the 22-year-old.

"He's fun, that's for sure," Camavinga said. "He's a player I already know from the national team. I hope he comes to Madrid.

"I don't know exactly what the situation is, but I've already spoken to him. We'll see what happens in the next few days."

Despite a notable first season in Madrid, Camavinga has not appeared for France since October 2020, coming off the bench in their 2-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb.

Playing with Les Bleus in this international window while another rematch of the 2018 World Cup final beckons for the senior team in the Nations League, the 19-year-old admits he is still yet to fully comprehend his Champions League triumph.

However, he still harbours the ambition to be called upon by Didier Deschamps when the World Cup eventually comes in November.

"I'm still in a dream," he said. "I already had the opportunity to go to Cibeles to celebrate LaLiga and I came back for the Champions League. You experience huge emotions, but then you have to know how to make sense of things and get back to work.

"I had a few days to enjoy myself, but now I have to concentrate on the national team. Although I still have the Champions League on my mind.

"It's my club performances that will determine whether I'm selected or not. I'll go back to the club and try to play as much as possible. Then whatever happens will happen."

One of the worst-kept secrets in football is out in the open after Manchester United confirmed Paul Pogba's second stint at the club is coming to an end.

The France star departed for Juventus back in 2012 before returning to Old Trafford in an £89million deal four years later.

Few Premier League players have proven as enigmatic as Pogba, with the 29-year-old capable of incredible individual brilliance but frequently subjected to fierce criticism throughout his difficult second spell at United.

From a World Cup success to sparring with Jose Mourinho, Stats Perform looks back on the highs and lows of Pogba's second spell with United.

High: Cup glory in triumphant first season

Pogba played his part as Mourinho, also in his first season at the club, led United to what remain their most recent major trophies.

The Frenchman made 51 appearances in all competitions as the Red Devils scooped an EFL Cup and Europa League double, ensuring Champions League qualification despite a sixth-placed Premier League finish. 

After starting United's 3-2 Wembley triumph over Southampton in February 2017, Pogba opened the scoring as United beat Ajax 2-0 to lift their second piece of silverware of the season in May, as the Red Devils won their sixth major European honour.

High: Conquering the centurions as City's celebrations put on hold

Manchester City's 2017-18 Premier League campaign was record-breaking in many ways, with Pep Guardiola's men becoming the only side to pick up 100 points in the competition, the first to win 32 of their 38 games, and the first to win 18 consecutive matches as they romped to the title.

They also, however, missed out on wrapping up the sweetest of title triumphs in a Manchester derby – a fact which owed primarily to a rampant performance from Pogba.

With City 2-0 up at half-time and seemingly cruising to the win they required to wrap up the title at a jubilant Etihad Stadium in April 2018, Pogba scored twice in two second-half minutes before Chris Smalling completed a sensational comeback, as United put the City celebrations on ice. 

High: World Cup glory with France

United finished the 2017-18 season as Premier League runners-up, with Pogba registering six goals and 12 assists in 37 appearances throughout the campaign.

And the midfielder carried that form into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, scoring in a 4-2 final win over Croatia as Les Blues were crowned world champions for the second time – his strike was the first goal scored from outside the penalty area in a World Cup final since Italy's Marco Tardelli did so against West Germany in 1982.

Pogba started six of the seven games France played during their triumphant campaign, but any hopes he may have harboured of building on those displays with his club were soon proven to be misplaced…

Low: Sparring with Mourinho as the world watches on

Reports of Pogba and Mourinho possessing a strained relationship were widespread during the Portuguese boss's time at the club, and such tensions were laid bare for the world to see in September 2018.

After an Instagram post appearing to show Pogba laughing with team-mates Luke Shaw and Andreas Pereira while United fell to an EFL Cup loss to Derby County, Sky Sports' cameras captured Mourinho discussing the incident with a visibly irked Pogba on the training ground.

It was not a good look as United struggled desperately in Mourinho's final months at the helm, with the former Chelsea boss relieved of his duties with the Red Devils sat sixth in the Premier League in December 2018.

Low: Penalty woe in 2021

Pogba enjoyed a renaissance of sorts under Mourinho's successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, ending the Norwegian's first half-season in charge with 13 league goals and nine assists, making 2018-19 his most productive campaign in a Red Devils shirt.

But Solskjaer's men frequently fell short on the big stage, most notably in their 2021 Europa League final loss to Villarreal, as David de Gea missed the vital kick at the end of a long penalty shoot-out after Pogba had been substituted for Dan James during extra-time.

That was not the only penalty heartache Pogba would experience in 2021, as France crashed out of the delayed Euro 2020 after a round-of-16 shoot-out loss to Switzerland, with Kylian Mbappe failing from the spot as Pogba's stunning 25-yard strike counted for nought. 

 

Low: Seeing red in Liverpool rout

Pogba's final season at Old Trafford was one to forget, as United finished sixth in the Premier League with their lowest-ever points tally in the competition (58), and interim manager Ralf Rangnick ended his six-month tenure with the worst Premier League win rate of any United boss (41.7 per cent – 10 wins from 24 games).

But before Rangnick entered the United dugout, Pogba endured the ignominy of being sent off as Solskjaer's Red Devils fell to a dire 5-0 home loss to Liverpool in October 2021 – their heaviest home loss without scoring since a 5-0 thrashing by Manchester City in February 1955.

Pogba's dismissal came just 15 minutes after he entered the fray at the break, making him the first substitute to be sent off in a Premier League for over three years (since Marcus Rashford in September 2018).

 

France coach Didier Deschamps has backed Paul Pogba to find a new club and arrest his slump in domestic form, as he hailed the upcoming Aurelien Tchouameni.

Pogba endured another frustrating season with Manchester United, who finished sixth in the Premier League and will hope Erik ten Hag can transform their fortunes next campaign.

World Cup-winning midfielder Pogba is widely expected to depart Old Trafford when his contract expires in June, with Juventus seemingly in the running to bring the 29-year-old back to Turin, while Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Pogba has come under scrutiny for failing to replicate his international performances for France, who he will not feature for in upcoming Nations League games due to injury.

Deschamps heaped praise on Pogba's efforts for his country and expects the France star to move on from United after another underwhelming campaign.

"Pogba has had a lot of injuries, with his club's results not up to par," Deschamps told a news conference on Saturday.

"He too will have to change scenery this summer."

Deschamps additionally spoke of players who may have struggled on club duty, saying: "There has to be credit for what they have been able to do with the France team."

Tchouameni has enjoyed another productive season in Ligue 1 with Monaco, leading to reports he could join Liverpool, Chelsea or Real Madrid in the next transfer window.

The midfielder appeared 35 times in Ligue 1 this campaign, with only Wissam Ben Yedder (37) and goalkeeper Alexander Nubel (38) featuring more for Philippe Clement's side.

The 22-year-old represents a threat at both ends of the pitch, leading Monaco's charts for successful opposition-half passes (932), while making the most tackles (86) and winning the most duels (260).

Tchouameni will compete with the likes of N'Golo Kante, Adrien Rabiot and Matteo Guendouzi for a spot in midfield, and Deschamps is delighted to see the Monaco man coming into contention.

"He doesn't have the experience of Pogba and Kante, but he has potential... I took him on quite early, and in his head, he has the necessary maturity," Deschamps said.

"It's good to have these young people who make sure the older players do not rest on their laurels! The young players continue to grow, and even the others who are not selected are also growing.

"It's the new generation. Today a 19-year-old, it can seem a bit presumptuous, they go to the big clubs, but they have no worries, they do everything to succeed."

Kylian Mbappe staying at Paris Saint-Germain can only be a positive outcome for French football, according to Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps.

World Cup winner Mbappe appeared set to move to Real Madrid when his contract expired in June, but opted to sign a three-year extension with PSG.

That denied Madrid talisman Karim Benzema the chance to link-up at club level with international team-mate Mbappe, who insisted he stayed at PSG "because the project had changed" and for sentimental reasons.

Deschamps will have the attacking duo to call upon for the Nations League campaign, starting against Denmark next Friday, and the France coach was delighted to see Mbappe stay in Paris.

"It's his choice. It's obvious that he stays in Ligue 1, it's a very good thing for French football," he told reporters on Saturday.

"He is attached to the club, he said what he had to say but in being French, that can only be a good thing.

"We can grow by staying. Today the objective of PSG is the same as in all the big clubs, and to win the Champions League. It may be necessary one day to go abroad, but that is not an obligation.

"We are not going to speak in other periods when there was a lag compared to France. But today, the choice of players is not the same.

"It is perhaps less of an obligation to go abroad to accomplish beautiful things."

 

There were reports of tension between Benzema and Mbappe after the former uploaded a photo of late rapper Tupac Shakur that was deemed to be a veiled reference to betrayal.

Benzema has since denied those suggestions, insisting he does not feel betrayed by Mbappe, and Deschamps does not envisage problems between the pair when they arrive for international duty.

"From my position as coach, where I have the players live where I know from A to Z what is going on, the main thing is the group," he added.

"It can lead to misunderstandings. From a situation where we can all draw negative conclusions when they are not necessarily negative... It can turn into a misunderstanding, which does not reflect reality.

"Today with the connected world it can go very very quickly, the slightest photo goes quickly. Even if I'm not on there!"

Christopher Nkunku, Moussa Dembele and Wissam Ben Yedder will also join Mbappe and Benzema in France's attacking ranks, with Olivier Giroud missing out from selection.

Deschamps says he did not call up Giroud as he wanted to offer the likes of Nkunku, Dembele and Ben Yedder a chance to show their worth.

"I said that in relation to the attacking players, who will be supposed to have a little more playing time," Deschamps continued.

"Olivier Giroud is not with us, it's to give playing time to Moussa, Christopher and Wissam, who are with us regularly, who have had playing time and will have the opportunity to have a little more.

"If possible we will make sure to involve everyone, some will play more than others. Through the four meetings, we will make sure that they are active, so that they get stronger, to have more experience. It will give additional information on the final list for the World Cup."

France's sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera believes Kylian Mbappe will be the poster boy for the Paris Olympic Games.

Mbappe last week decided to stay at Paris Saint-Germain, despite having widely been expected to join Real Madrid on a free transfer.

The 23-year-old has signed a three-year deal with PSG, keeping him at the Parc des Princes until 2025.

It is a move that Oudea-Castera believes benefits the whole of France, as she suggested Mbappe, already a World Cup winner, will now be the star for the country to get behind in the 2024 Olympics.

"To be on the field, in our magnificent sites, to represent his country at the Olympic Games in 2024, he has always dreamed of it and he will make so many of us dream of it," she told RMC Sport, as quoted by Le Parisien. 

"It's a big 'YES' in capital letters. PSG will be fully behind the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I am certain that all this will happen."

Oudea-Castera thinks Mbappe is worth the huge salary the Ligue 1 champions are paying him.

"The amounts are very high, but that rewards an immense talent, constant work. He is a huge worker, sport also has its big stars as has entrepreneurship," she added.

"It's not dirty or ugly, especially since he gives a lot. Kylian makes his values clear, he is very committed."

Oudea-Castera also had a word for Mbappe's France team-mate Karim Benzema, who she backed to win the Ballon d'Or after an extraordinary season with Madrid that might culminate in a Champions League triumph, with Los Blancos facing Liverpool in Paris on Saturday.

"He has a good chance [of winning the Ballon d'Or]," she said. 

"We are all behind him, it would be a very nice reward."

Karim Benzema insists he does not feel "betrayed" by Kylian Mbappe's decision to stay with Paris Saint-Germain instead of joining him at Real Madrid.

After well over a year of intense speculation, Mbappe finally confirmed on Saturday that he had signed a new three-year contract at PSG.

It was a decision few saw coming given Madrid's apparent confidence the France international was going to join them on a free transfer at the end of June.

Mbappe's decision infuriated LaLiga chief Javier Tebas, while others associated more closely with Madrid were said to have been stunned.

An Instagram post by Benzema later the same day attracted particular attention, as he uploaded a photo of late rapper Tupac Shakur that was deemed to be veiled reference to betrayal.

According to Madrid-based newspaper Marca, which is generally regarded to have strong ties to Los Blancos, Benzema had been key in trying to persuade international team-mate Mbappe to join the club, hence why he might have felt betrayed.

But Benzema is adamant such stories are nonsense.

Speaking to Movistar Plus on Tuesday, Benzema said: "I'm going to tell you that we're going to play a Champions League final on Saturday. This is not the time to talk about those little things. I'd rather not talk.

"I'm not angry, I'm just telling you that I'm focused on the Champions League final, which is more important than listening to other things."

Asked if he felt "betrayed", Benzema continued: "Why? Everyone has to be focused on their things.

"Mbappe and other players have no reason to call me. Everyone decides their future. I'm calm here, preparing for Saturday's game. Each person does what he wants.

"There is no history of betrayal, or anything… Every month and a half I [post] photos of Tupac, who is my favourite.

"It's not a photo with a message; if I have a message I will see the person. Madrid is the best club in the world, but it was not a message."

Benzema did acknowledge, however, that the news was unexpected.

"I was surprised, like everyone else," he said. "He is a Paris player and we have a game on Saturday."

Both players are expected to be on international duty with France next month when Les Bleus begin their Nations League title defence.

France coach Didier Deschamps has named his squad for Les Bleus' Nations League games in June, with Boubacar Kamara called up for the first time.

The Nations League holders face Denmark, Austria and Croatia next month, playing their 2018 World Cup final opponents both home and away.

Marseille midfielder Kamara has enjoyed a fine season, and the 22-year-old – who is set to leave the Ligue 1 club as a free agent, with Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Barcelona linked – has been rewarded with a maiden senior international call.

Kamara is part of a 24-man squad and may well have benefited from Paul Pogba's injury absence.

Pogba – who is also out of contract at Manchester United – sustained an injury in a heavy defeat against Liverpool at Anfield in April, with club manager Ralf Rangnick confirming the midfielder's season was over.

N'Golo Kante has been named after he returned from injury to feature for Chelsea against Liverpool in last weekend's FA Cup final, with Kamara's club-mates Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba, who is on loan from Arsenal, also called up.

Theo Hernandez has been crucial to Milan's title challenge in Serie A and is named in the defence alongside his brother Lucas.

Up front, Kylian Mbappe – whose future is set to be revealed before France's fixtures take place – joins Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, Kingsley Coman, Moussa Diaby. Wissam Ben Yedder and Christopher Nkunku, who has directly contributed to a remarkable 50 goals this season for RB Leipzig (34 goals, 16 assists).

France squad in full:

Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan); Jonathan Clauss (Lens), Lucas Digne (Aston Villa), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), William Saliba (Marseille), Raphael Varane (Manchester United); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Boubacar Kamara (Marseille), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig).

Kylian Mbappe has revealed he will announce a decision regarding his future before linking up with the France national team for June's Nations League fixtures.

With his contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain due to expire next month, Mbappe has been strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid.

Conflicting reports have suggested PSG are confident of tying the 23-year-old to a new deal in the French capital, while the hierarchy at the Bernabeu are sure of luring him to Spain.

Mbappe, a 2018 World Cup winner, has scored 36 goals and provided 21 assists for PSG this season, firing the Parisiens to the 10th Ligue 1 title in the club's history.

His total of 57 goal contributions this season can only be bettered by international team-mate Karim Benzema (59) among players in the top-five European leagues this season.

Speaking at the annual Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionels (UNFP) award ceremony in Paris, where he was named the best player in the French top flight for a third time in four years (there was no winner for the curtailed 2019-20 campaign), Mbappe revealed he will soon make an announcement on where he intends to play next term.

While Mbappe was less forthright on his future than was the case at the 2019 ceremony, where he made headlines by discussing the potential of a "new project", he later said all will become clear by the time he meets up with his national team at the end of the month. 

"I made this mistake three years ago to monopolise the ceremony. I want to participate in the ceremony, not seek glory," Mbappe said, as reported by RMC.

"We will know very quickly, it's almost over. My choice is made, yes, almost."

Speaking to journalists in the mixed zone after picking up the award, Mbappe said: "I will officially announce my decision on the future before I join the France national team in June."

Mbappe later expressed his delight at retaining the Ligue 1 prize in a social media post, writing on Twitter: "Best player in Ligue 1 for the third consecutive season. An immense pride to write history once again. This recognition warms my heart. And of course, thank you to all of my club and the fans for the trust granted this season."

Having scored and provided two assists in PSG's 4-0 victory over Montpellier on Saturday, Mbappe has been involved in 245 goals in all competitions since making his PSG debut in September 2017 (168 goals, 77 assists).

That total is at least 98 more than any other player has managed for the club in the same period (Neymar is second with 147 goal contributions).

France are due to play four Nations League matches in June, facing a double-header against 2018 World Cup final opponents Croatia, as well as a home clash with Denmark and a trip to Austria.

Former France international Christian Karembeu has declared Les Bleus the favourite for this year's World Cup after the draw was announced.

France are trying to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their crown but will have history working against them as the last three teams to attempt that feat have all fallen in the group stage.

After drawing Group D, France will have fixtures against Denmark, Tunisia and the eventual playoff winner out of Australia, UAE and Peru.

Karembeu, who was part of the France side who prevailed on home soil in 1998, believes they have earned the title of favourite this time around.

"[France] are the [World Cup] favourites, which is a topic I have spoken about a lot," he told reporters in Qatar.

"We have a young team with a lot of quality, not to mention the head coach [Didier Deschamps] – I have to say that, otherwise he will yell at me. 

"We have a Federation that works, allowing us to be focused on that objective of winning the World Cup."

Fellow former World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff was less emphatic about his prediction, instead pointing towards the interesting timing of the event, which begins in November.

"A draw in itself doesn't mean anything," he said.

"Yes, the World Cup is starting so you prepare, and you know when you are going to play, but there is no good or bad draw. Especially at this time of the year when all the teams are going to be competitive. 

"That's where [this] World Cup will be different from the others.

"All the great players and all the teams are going to get to a point in the season where they are going to be competitive. 

"It's not the end of the season, where it's long and there are a lot of big games. It's almost the beginning of the season. 

"It's going to be very interesting."

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

Didier Deschamps highlighted Denmark's quality as he warned of the difficulties of France's 2022 World Cup draw.

World champions France were entered into Group D on Friday, alongside Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru, the United Arab Emirates or Australia.

Les Bleus also faced Denmark, Peru and Australia in the first round en route to the title in Russia four years ago and are now expected to comfortably get out of their group.

However, Deschamps was anything but complacent following the draw, well aware of the threat Denmark in particular pose.

Semi-finalists at Euro 2020, Denmark are ranked 11th in the world, with only Mexico and the Netherlands above them from pot two. Germany, widely considered the toughest opponents, are 12th.

And Kasper Hjulmand's side will get a good look at France in the Nations League at the end of this season, too.

Were France to fall into second place in their group, they would face the winners of Argentina's pool. Les Bleus beat Lionel Messi and Co. in Russia but would undoubtedly rather avoid one of the sport's great names in what seems set to be his last World Cup.

Deschamps, speaking to beIN SPORTS, said: "I do not know if this draw is perfect.

"The Danes will also have the advantage of getting to know us better after the two Nations League games this summer. And then it's not the same competition, so it's something else.

"You have to have a lot of respect for this team and especially not think that it's a given. We are talking about the 11th world nation that reached a semi-final at the last Euro. They rank higher than Germany.

"I saw that we will cross with the group of Argentina, but the most important thing is to know the schedules of the matches. We could go from 1pm to 10pm and it's not the same thing at all.

"We already know the dates, but we will wait to know the schedules."

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