SAINT-DENIS, France — France regained control of its World Cup destiny with a comfortable 4-0 win against the Netherlands in Group A on Thursday, damaging Dutch hopes of qualification and moving Les Bleus three points clear of Sweden after it lost 3-2 at Bulgaria.
Antoine Griezmann’s 17th international goal set France on its way in the first half, and Monaco attacking midfielder Thomas Lemar’s first two international goals after the break secured victory against a shoddy Dutch side short on invention and lacking in composure.
Just hours after sealing a loan move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain, 18-year-old star Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to score the fourth in a breathtaking cameo. It was his first international goal and taken with the confidence and poise of a seasoned striker.
Lemar struck his first with a crisp half-volley from the edge of the penalty area in the 73rd minute, and tapped home from close range near the end after being set up by Griezmann.
“It was a perfect night,” Lemar said.
Mbappe then casually stroked the ball into the bottom corner in the first minute of injury time, after running onto a neat cutback from his now former Monaco teammate Djibril Sidibe.
“We took some time to get a second goal, but we did many good things on the ball,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It’s a very positive result.”
With Mbappe on the bench and Ousmane Dembele not selected, France had the luxury of starting without the second and third most expensive players in the world.
Mbappe’s move is expected to cost PSG 180 million euros ($216 million) when made permanent next year. While Mbappe and the 20-year-old Dembele are the future, Deschamps can always count on the trusted Olivier Giroud and Griezmann.
It was only last year that they were the fulcrum of France’s attack at the European Championship, and their understanding worked again.
Anticipating Griezmann’s run behind him, Giroud cushioned a perfect pass from the edge of the penalty area into his path, allowing Griezmann to run through and place the ball between goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen’s legs.
Griezmann was involved again when midfielder Kevin Strootman was shown a straight red card in the 61st for fouling him. But there was minimal contact and the foul merited a yellow card at most.
Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat acknowledged the gulf in class between the sides.
“We had no chance against a France side that was very strong,” he said. “Maybe in the first half we resisted a little bit, but overall we didn’t play well and France largely deserved to win.”
A home win against Luxembourg on Sunday is hardly a daunting prospect for France, and will all but book its ticket for Russia next year.
BULGARIA BOUNCES BACK
Bulgaria jumped into contention for second place after midfielder Ivaylo Chochev’s late winner moved it two points above Netherlands and one behind Sweden.
Midfielder Stanislav Manolev put Bulgaria ahead in the 12th minute, with Celtic defender Mikael Lustig equalizing for Sweden in the 29th.
It took the home side four minutes to regain the lead through central midfielder Georgi Kostadinov, but striker Marcus Berg’s 13th international goal drew Sweden level just before the break.
Bulgaria is away to the Netherlands on Sunday, while Sweden travels to struggling Belarus.
“We still have our destiny in our own hands,” Advocaat said. “If we win our last three games we’ll finish second and go to the playoffs.”
Daniel Da Mota Alves rarely scores for his country, but the attacking midfielder’s fifth international goal in his 70th appearance was enough to secure Luxembourg a 1-0 home win against Belarus.
A rare victory, also, but not enough to move Luxembourg off the bottom of Group A.
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