Aurelien Tchouameni has rubbished suggestions the France squad is a more harmonious place without Karim Benzema after reaching the World Cup knockout rounds.

Didier Deschamps' side are into the last 16 at Qatar 2022 after victory over Denmark in Group D, with Kylian Mbappe's double firing Les Bleus to a 2-1 win on Saturday.

The attacker has delivered for his side so far in the absence of Benzema, with the Ballon d'Or winner ruled out on the eve of the tournament with a thigh injury.

Some reports have suggested there has been a better atmosphere in the absence of the Real Madrid star, who was not involved at Russia 2018, but Tchouameni has now sought to dispel those rumours.

"I want to come back to something we saw concerning the departure of Karim," Tchouameni stated about his club and international team-mate.

"[Somewhere said] we have felt better since he was no longer here.

"It's totally false. Even when he was there, it was already going well. We have been hurt by these reports.

"What I can tell you is that since we arrived in Qatar, things have been going really well."

With two games under his belt, Tchouameni is fast becoming an integral member for Deschamps in his side's title defence, with France boosted too by the return of defender Raphael Varane.

The Manchester United centre-back has been nursing a problem since late October, but made his return to action with a start against Denmark.

Reflecting on his injury, Varane added: "I've come a long way. It's been a lot of work, a lot of effort to come back.

"I feel good. It's always special to play at this exceptional event. I'll take advantage of every moment. We will do everything to go as far as possible."

France will conclude their Group D campaign against Tunisia on November 30, and will discover their last-16 opponents later that day when Group C concludes.

Denmark attacker Jesper Lindstrom believes France's "crazy team" should reach the final of the World Cup, at the very least.

Kylian Mbappe scored twice on Saturday as the World Cup holders became the first team to seal a place in the round of 16 in Qatar with a 2-1 win over the Danes. It is the first time the reigning champions have reached the knockout stage since Brazil in 2006.

Andreas Christensen cancelled out Mbappe's opener at Stadium 974, but the Paris Saint-Germain forward bundled home from Antoine Griezmann's cross to claim the points in Group D.

Mbappe was the star performer in Doha, but Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot and Olivier Giroud were all excellent too.

With such a star-studded squad, Eintracht Frankfurt forward Lindstrom sees no reason why France should not reach the tournament's showpiece match on December 18.

"Look at the team, I think they should at least go to the final," Lindstrom said.

"They have game-winners. Mbappe, Dembele, Griezmann, Tchouameni... even on the bench, they have a crazy team.

"I think the game is always open when you play against Dembele and Mbappe, it's always going to be difficult with their speed."

Despite failing to score, France dominated the first half, having 13 shots and accumulating 0.99 expected goals (xG) to Denmark's 0.05, with Kasper Schmeichel pulling off two fine saves.

Having netted in the final in Russia four years ago, and in the 4-1 win over Australia on Tuesday, Mbappe is just the second player to score in three successive World Cup games for France since Just Fontaine, who scored in six consecutive appearances at the 1958 tournament.

Mbappe is now onto 31 goals for Les Bleus, netting 14 times in his last 12 games.

"He's one of them - top quality," Lindstrom replied when asked if Mbappe was the best player he had faced.

"He scored two goals, so we can't say we defended him well, but our wing-back was close to him. But you see he has the qualities to score when he gets the chances."

Rasmus Kristensen was the defender tasked with marking Mbappe, and the Leeds United right-back reflected: "Difficult. A good player, a really, really good player.

"For me maybe the best in the world. It's a privilege playing against the best. I was just trying to do my best."

Kylian Mbappe plays football "like a steam train" and showed his quiet leadership qualities with the double that fired France into the World Cup knockout rounds, says boss Didier Deschamps.

Les Bleus secured a 2-1 victory over Denmark thanks to a brace from the forward, to seal their progress from Group D after an opening win against Australia.

Having shot to stardom four years ago as the poster boy for France's World Cup victory at Russia 2018, Mbappe has arrived at Qatar 2022 with greater weight on his shoulders after an injury to Karim Benzema.

But Deschamps feels there is no extra heat upon him, who continues to be an integral part of the national set-up regardless of who his team-mates are with his attacking dominance.

"He’s a leader," he stated. "I don’t think leadership has one face. Kylian doesn't speak, he's not very talkative. However, he's like a steam train on the pitch. He's the one that gets the crowd going.

"Kylian's always got the same responsibility. He knows the French team need him, and we need him to be at his best. The proof is in the pudding from the first two games."

With Benzema's absence, Mbappe is just one of five players with a half-century of caps under their belt for the national team in Qatar, alongside Hugo Lloris, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane.

It marks a squad peppered with youthful faces and limited top-level experienced for Les Bleus, but Deschamps does not feel that is a hindrance, pointing to their sparkling club reputations.

"I have a great pool of players," he added. "I’m very lucky to be able to fall back on this pool of players.

"Most of them don’t have 50 caps, but they play in the best European clubs, I have a high-quality squad with an excellent mindset."

Antoine Griezmann says he is proud to match Zinedine Zidane for assists with France, but credited their World Cup victory over Denmark as a team performance.

Kylian Mbappe's double saw the defending champions book their place in the knockout rounds with a 2-1 win, cementing top spot in Group D with a game in hand.

Griezmann supplied the crucial delivery for the forward's winner, cancelling out Andreas Christensen's earlier equaliser, to move him to 26 assists overall for his country.

That draws him level with national legend and fellow World Cup winner Zidane, but while Griezmann was delighted to match the achievement, he was quick to pay tribute to Didier Deschamps' squad as a whole.

"I am very proud of that," he told TF1. "But I insist [it is] the work of the team, [rather than] my work offensively or defensively.

"There are the stats, [if] we only look at that. But everyone made an exceptional effort tonight. It was very important to win and qualify."

Griezmann's feat draws him level with Zidane, who helped France to World Cup success on home soil in 1998.

For France, victory marked a spot of revenge too after back-to-back losses against Kasper Hjulmand's side in the Nations League, and Griezmann acknowledged their win was a hard-fought one.

"We knew it was going to be a complicated match," he added. "We lost twice in the Nations League. We did a lot of work together. Those who returned worked well too. It's a very good victory."

France will wrap up their Group D campaign against Tunisia on November 30, where they will look to ensure they claim top spot and an arguably more favourable draw for the knockout stages.

Kylian Mbappe poached a double as France became the first side to clinch a place in the last-16 stage at the Qatar World Cup with a 2-1 win over Denmark.

It took France until just past the hour mark to make a breakthrough, as Mbappe finished off an electrifying break.

Denmark were level seven minutes later when Andreas Christensen planted a close-range header past Hugo Lloris, and substitute Martin Braithwaite later clipped the post.

However, Mbappe was decisive when he bundled in Antoine Griezmann's cross from the right in the 86th minute.

Didier Deschamps recalled Raphael Varane to his starting XI for France's World Cup clash with Denmark.

Varane, who has not played since he was forced off with an injury in Manchester United's Premier League game with Chelsea on October 22, was one of three changes made to the France team for Saturday's game in Doha.

Deschamps confirmed on Friday that Varane had been fit to feature in the opening game, and had trained without any issues prior to France's second match of the tournament.  The former Real Madrid centre-back replaced Ibrahima Konate in France's XI.

Les Bleus head into the match at Stadium 974 knowing that victory would ensure their progression to the last 16.

The holders thrashed Australia 4-1 in their opening Group D game, though suffered another injury blow in that match, with Lucas Hernandez sustaining a serious knee injury.

Hernandez was replaced by his brother, Theo, and the latter started at left-back against the Danes, with Barcelona defender Jules Kounde replacing Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard at right-back.

Olivier Giroud will become France's all-time leading goalscorer the next time he finds the net, and the Milan forward was given the nod up top, leading a line that also included Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand made four changes.

Thomas Delaney was injured in the draw with Tunisia on Tuesday and makes way for Mikkel Damsgaard, while Victor Nelsson replaced Simon Kjaer in the defence and Jesper Lindstrom came in for Andreas Skov Olsen.

Andreas Cornelius missed a fantastic chance to seal the points for Denmark against Tunisia, hitting the post from a yard out, but he was handed a start in place of Kasper Dolberg.

Adrien Rabiot believes that France's inexperienced midfield "can be a positive force", following an impressive showing in the opening fixture against Australia.

Didier Deschamps' defending champions were ravaged by injury issues in their build-up to the World Cup in Qatar, with midfield duo Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante among those being forced to watch on from home.

That pairing played an integral part in France's success in Russia four years ago, leaving a high bar to Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni, who started in the win against the Socceroos.

Both impressed with their performance, Rabiot scoring France's equaliser on the way to a 4-1 win, and he feels the youthfulness of the side can provide a boost.

"I don't listen or read what is being said. Our midfield is young and less experienced than in previous competitions, that's a fact. But it can be a positive force. Time and results will tell," he told ESPN.

"We also need to look at the quality of the players here, and our commitment. For us, even if there is less experience of these situations, there's still such a strong desire to do well.

"It is important to have players you can rely on, players you can 'rest' on. To know that some have more experience, more Champions League games, matters too.

"I like to be there for my teammates. I like to be advising, talking and listening. Helping my teammates to perform and be in the right conditions, physically and mentally, for what we face on the pitch is something I like doing."

France are among the favourites to go all the way in Qatar, with Rabiot making it clear that his intention is to win – which would see Les Bleus become only the third team to win back-to-back World Cup tournaments after Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962).

"When I play a tournament, my target is to win it. I want to win this World Cup," he declared.

"I don't know if I will ever play a World Cup again, so we have to go for it and bring the trophy back home.

"We have to give everything, without thinking about anything else. It is now. Otherwise, there is no point being here.

"We have to be serene and be confident in our abilities, but not take anything for granted, like we did against Australia."

France can secure their spot in the knockout stages with victory against Denmark on Saturday, then finishing the group stage against Tunisia on Wednesday.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand is not frightened by Kylian Mbappe but conceded there is only so much you can do to stop the France striker.

Mbappe scored in Les Bleus' 4-1 win against Australia in their World Cup Group D opener on Tuesday and looked razor sharp alongside Olivier Giroud.

Hjulmand's men ground out a goalless draw against Tunisia, although keeping another clean sheet against the defending champions may be trickier to achieve.

Asked if he was frightened at the thought of trying to keep Mbappe quiet, Hjulmand replied: "I don't think it's good to be frightened. We have plans to stop him. At Parken [in September] we had a good plan, a good structure. He had two or three chances and no matter what plans you have against top players, you can't keep them down.

"We have carried out plenty of analysis to try to minimise his impact, we don't want him to show the talent he has."

Hjulmand is hoping some insider knowledge will also help stifle France's threat with captain Simon Kjaer a team-mate of Giroud at Milan.

He added: "I hope it's an advantage. A player like Giroud is very good at what he does. It's a pleasure seeing so many strikers in the latter stages of their careers showing how to move in the box, showing how to be dangerous in their positioning and showing how to finish in the box.

"Giroud is better now than he was before, he is very dangerous. Simon knows him very well and we have been talking about the small details."

Denmark enjoyed back-to-back wins against Didier Deschamps' side in the Nations League earlier this year but Hjulmand knows facing them at a World Cup is a different proposition.

"We have tested them a couple of times but this is a different tournament," he said. "But we know that if we play our best we have a chance of getting a good result.

"To be able to do that, we have to take a big step forward in quality from the first match."

Denmark and France kick off six hours after the other Group D encounter between Australia and Tunisia, and Hjulmand admitted the result of that game could affect his approach to the game.

"I won't watch that game, but I will obviously know the outcome as it will influence how we approach our game," he said.

"I am only really talking about the last 25 minutes. We are focused on winning the match but the other game will influence our approach."

Marcel Desailly believes Rafael Leao must become "ruthless" and "forge his character" following comparisons between the Milan winger and Thierry Henry.

Leao, directly involved in 10 of the Rossoneri's 29 Serie A goals this season (scoring six and assisting four), opened his Portugal tally in their World Cup win over Ghana on Thursday.

Desailly won the Champions League and two Scudetti during his five-year stint at Milan between 1993 and 1998 - the same year he was a team-mate of Henry's in France's first World Cup triumph.

When asked if he thought Leao was similar to Henry, whose national record tally of 51 goals was equalled by Olivier Giroud in Les Bleus' victory over Australia on Tuesday, the former defender told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Calm down.

"It seems to me that Leao became a star before he even became a star. He has enormous potential, but he doesn't give me the idea of being ruthless. I ask Leao to forge his character."

Meanwhile, Desailly praised another Milan player in compatriot Theo Hernandez, who appeared as a substitute in France's 4-1 triumph over the Socceroos and could remain at full-back for the remainder of the World Cup following injury to his brother Lucas.

"Theo Hernandez can become the strongest in the world," he added. "He is a chameleon, he has the ability to change his function within the team."

Having regained the Serie A crown last season, Stefano Pioli's side are eight points adrift of leaders Napoli after the opening 15 matches in the Italian top flight.

The Partenopei are unbeaten so far in their quest for a first Scudetto since the 1989-90 season, but Desailly does not believe they will maintain their momentum throughout the campaign.

"I love Napoli’s energy," he said. "But I doubt they can hold on psychologically until the end. They don't have the squad to hold up."

Hugo Lloris is confident Adrien Rabiot will prove crucial to France's World Cup defence following his impressive display against Australia, while Didier Deschamps wants even more from Ousmane Dembele.

Injuries to Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante opened the door for Rabiot to assume a central role in Qatar, and he did not let Les Bleus down in their 4-1 win over the Socceroos.

The Juventus midfielder grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck before the break, cancelling out Craig Goodwin's earlier strike by scoring the equaliser before assisting the first of Olivier Giroud's two goals.

Rabiot subsequently became the first France player to both score and assist a goal on his World Cup debut since Christophe Dugarry against South Africa in 1998.

Lloris said: "A lot has been said about the absences of Kante and Pogba, who have been vital engines for us for some years now. 

"But you can forget that there are players who can step up and have the maturity and experience to take a leading role – Adrien has that.

"We know his qualities, there is an opportunity for him at this World Cup.

"The opportunity is coming at the right time and he has shown that against Australia.

"He stepped up and scored that goal and gave an assist to Olivier, it shows the impact he can have on the team.

"We know how talented he is, but he also is a very hard worker, he is very technically gifted, a very elegant player. I'm sure he'll help us go as far as possible."

Meanwhile, Deschamps believes Dembele must continue to strive for improvement, despite grabbing an assist in the Australia victory.

The Barcelona forward, whose brilliant cross set up Kylian Mbappe, started France's first two games at the 2018 tournament, but made just two further substitute appearances in Russia.

He was then unused during the victory over Croatia in the final.

But Deschamps insists Dembele has not arrived in Qatar with a point to prove, saying: "I don't think he wants to make up for it or forget it; he was in 2018 squad, and it was successful.

"Four years ago, he was going through a difficult time with major injuries. Now, he is more mature, but he is still full of youthful exuberance. He is in a club that is very demanding, and maybe he is better at that club.

"He is always capable of creating problems for the opponent as he is so quick and skilful, but he needs to rule out any wastefulness and be as effective as he possibly can.

"He was pleased to be in first XI [against Australia], and he put in a good performance."

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris believes Richarlison has proven his qualities for Brazil, silencing his doubters with a double against Serbia.

Richarlison was the star of the show for Brazil in Doha on Thursday, as Tite's team started their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 victory at Lusail Stadium.

The Tottenham forward tucked in an opportunistic opener in the 62nd minute, before lashing an acrobatic attempt into the left-hand corner to seal the victory in style.

Brazil's win was marred by an ankle injury for Neymar, though Tite was confident the Paris Saint-Germain star would recover.

Asked about his Spurs team-mate, as well as Neymar's injury, while previewing France's Group D clash with Denmark, Lloris said: "Neymar is an icon in global football, but I'm not going to talk about him that much, I don't know how serious the injury is.

"For Richarlison, I'm delighted for him, he's not one of the better-known players in the Brazil squad and maybe not everyone expected to be in XI, but he's a great player, a great goalscorer – as he proved with the first goal but then a wonderful second goal.

"[It was] spectacular, and the best goal of the tournament so far, so that's great for him.

"We know how good a team Brazil is, they're favourites. They'll be delighted to win the first game, that's what they needed to do, to get out on the front foot."

Holders France can seal their place in the last 16 by beating Denmark on Saturday, though they go into that match having lost their last two meetings with the Danes, both of those defeats coming in this year's Nations League.

Lloris said: "It gives you an idea of the level of this Danish team, it's an excellent side and capable of beating the best.

"It's been a wake-up for us, we can't say we don't know them and we don't need extra motivation, [it's] a decisive game for qualification. If you look at the first games between Tunisia and Denmark, you can see that we have a lot of work to do. Every team is in a good place."

"They are underestimated," France coach Didier Deschamps said of Denmark, who have kept a clean sheet in three of their last five World Cup games.

"We're talking about just between June and September where they beat us twice and made life difficult. We have to make sure that's not the case. It's not a question of revenge, we know their players, they know us.

"We'll learn from those experiences but Denmark can learn too."

Lucas Hernandez has successfully undergone surgery after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in France's 4-1 World Cup opening win against Australia on Tuesday.

Hernandez's club Bayern Munich confirmed he had the operation in Innsbruck on Thursday, with his rehabilitation to commence in Munich in the coming days.

The defender was ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup due to the injury that saw him replaced after only 13 minutes.

Bayern did not provide a timeframe on Hernandez's recovery but it is expected he will miss the rest of the 2022-23 season.

Hernandez is the latest injury blow for the world champions, who saw Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku all ruled out before the tournament started.

France head coach Didier Deschamps said after Tuesday's game: "Like the whole group, players and staff, I am extremely sorry for Lucas.

"We are losing an important element. Lucas is a warrior and I have no doubt that he will do everything possible to return to the game.

"I know him well. Courage, he will have it, that's for sure. On behalf of the group, I wish him the best possible recovery."

Hernandez has made 11 appearances, including 10 starts, for Bayern this season, having missed six weeks with an adductor injury sustained in September.

Dani Alves believes Kylian Mbappe "has still not understood" the value of playing with "geniuses" Lionel Messi and Neymar in Paris Saint-Germain's attack.

Mbappe is the leading marksman in Ligue 1 this season with 12 goals – one more than Brazil international Neymar – while he is just 11 away from breaking Edinson Cavani's club record tally of 200.

However, the France international has only registered two assists in the French top flight this term, with Messi (10) and Neymar (nine) recording 19 between them.

Alves spent two years playing alongside Mbappe and Neymar in Paris, having also previously won multiple honours alongside the latter and Messi at Barcelona.

The Brazil full-back who, at 39, was handed a chance to become his nation's oldest World Cup player, feels the 23-year-old Mbappe's goalscoring exploits would be even greater should be pass to his team-mates more often.

"Neymar and Messi are unique, they see and do things that no one else sees or can do," Alves told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "You have to be smart to take advantage of their potential, they are the two geniuses of football.

"I think I can touch the ball well, but when I was playing with Leo, I was giving him the ball. And if I play with Ney, I give him the ball. If Mbappe gave the ball to those two, he would score 150 goals [in a season].

"A great player always has to know and understand who he is playing with. Your team-mates enrich your qualities.

"Mbappe is a phenomenon who has still not understood that those who play in attack with him are more phenomenal than him."

 

Ousmane Dembele says he has "matured" as a person and a player since France last the World Cup in 2018, following a victorious start to their title defence against Australia.

The Barcelona winger started as Didier Deschamps' side bounced back from an early Craig Goodwin finish to win 4-1 in Al Wakrah, thanks to an Olivier Giroud double and goals from Adrien Rabiot and Kylian Mbappe.

Having been an unused substitute four years ago as Les Bleus beat Croatia in  the final in Russia, Dembele is looking to play his part in what he hopes to be a successive World Cup triumph.

With his Blaugrana form having turned a corner after a prolonged saga over his future at the club, he feels he is in a stronger place to contribute now for the national team at Qatar 2022.

"There has been three difficult seasons with Barcelona," he stated. "When you look at the first two games [I played in] 2018 and this year there is a lot of difference.

"I have matured. I didn't have a healthy lifestyle as you can imagine, [though] it wasn't a party! But I'm a little older now, [at] 25."

France's recovery ensured they dodged an upset against Australia, but other heavyweight favourites have been less fortunate so far at the World Cup.

Argentina were stunned by lowly Saudi Arabia, while Germany, looking to recover from a chastening campaign in Russia, failed to stop a comeback from Japan.

Dembele says it leaves a warning that no match is easy at Qatar 2022, and that bigger sides write off theoretical underdogs at their peril.

"There are no small teams," he added. "Everyone knows how to play football, how to work on tactics. We saw that with Saudi Arabia.

"When you lower the intensity, you get trapped. But with our team, if we put all the ingredients together, we will not have to worry."

France are next in action when they play Denmark in Group D on November 26, before their final group stage match against Tunisia four days later.

Garang Kuol became Australia's youngest World Cup star on Tuesday but noted the "big difference" he must bridge in order to regularly rub shoulders with the likes of Kylian Mbappe.

Kuol, who at 18 years and 68 days old was the ninth-youngest player in the tournament's history, was brought on as a 73rd-minute substitute moments after the final goal in the Socceroos' 4-1 opening defeat to holders France.

The highly talented winger – already confirmed as a Newcastle United signing ahead of a January move – enjoyed a few bright touches yet saw a significant gap to his opponents.

Kuol did not start a single A-League game for Central Coast Mariners, although he scored six goals in 326 minutes from the bench.

Meanwhile, Mbappe was France's star man as they took the title in Russia 2018 four years ago and appears to be in the mood to repeat the feat.

"You could see the level that they're at," Kuol said afterwards.

"They're 6ft 4[in] people who are as quick as me, so there was a big difference between me and some of those players. Only hard work will get me to that level.

"I think it was a good taste to see the level the players are at. Some play in the Premier League, some play in the Champions League, so it was good to get that taste of the level."

Mbappe in particular was relentless after a slow start had seen Australia lead through Craig Goodwin in the ninth minute.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward scored the third goal before creating the fourth for Olivier Giroud, having also had a role in the second – again scored by Giroud.

Mbappe had 19 touches in the Australia box – the most by any player in a World Cup match since 1970 – and completed three dribbles.

Australia right-back Nathaniel Atkinson endured a torrid time, not helped by the introduction of attacking France left-back Theo Hernandez after his brother Lucas was injured attempting to prevent the Socceroos goal.

Atkinson was dribbled past twice and gave away possession on 12 occasions, including an error leading to France's second.

"It's obviously the first time I've come up against this type of opposition in my career," Atkinson said.

"Obviously, I've taken full responsibility for the second goal, but the beauty of the tournament is you can't dwell on it because you've got another game to fix it in three days.

"It's a good experience. It's an eye-opener. There's a reason [Mbappe] is earning 200million [Australian] dollars a year and I am where I am, but that's something to look forward to.

"It's good to come up against this calibre. You know what to work on. I know what to fix; I've played that scenario 50 times over and I could probably come up with 50 different solutions. That's football. I'm disappointed.

"It's just the physicality of the guy. The pace... it's not hidden how quick that guy is – you give him one step and he's gone.

"As a team, you can always come up with a plan, but sometimes if it's one-v-one and he gets the better of you, it's a learning curve.

"You can get your confidence up with getting a few challenges in, but there's a reason why he's one of the top three players in the world."

Australia are not giving up hope, inspired by Saudi Arabia's sensational defeat of Argentina earlier on Tuesday.

"Anything can happen," Atkinson added. "You see what Saudi did against Argentina.

"We've come up against the world champions, and there's a reason for that. They're a good footballing team. We can take confidence from the way we played early on in that game."

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