Netherlands vs France: Kylian Mbappe can be Les Bleus' masked superhero in quest to beat Dutch

Netherlands vs France: Kylian Mbappe can be Les Bleus' masked superhero in quest to beat Dutch

As Kylian Mbappe took to the training pitch yesterday, sporting an unmistakably French protective face mask, it was hard not to shake the image of a superhero rocking up to save the mere mortals around him.

France, let us remember, are one of the favourites to win Euro 2024 and can lay claim to a genuinely star-studded team.

But their chances of lifting the trophy in Berlin on July 14 are surely dependent on having Mbappe available, so what a boost it was yesterday when manager Didier Deschamps said his captain should be fit for tonight’s blockbuster clash against Netherlands.

It had been an anxious week for France, following Monday’s 1-0 win over Austria, when Mbappe suffered a broken nose and was taken to hospital for scans. Initial assessments suggested the newly-signed Real Madrid forward would be out until the knockout stages, until Deschamps delivered news the Dutch will not have liked hearing.

“He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday, and that will be the same this [Thursday] evening,” Deschamps said. “Everything is moving in the right direction to ensure he is available tomorrow.”

Kylian Mbappe was left bloodied in the win over Austria (REUTERS)
Kylian Mbappe was left bloodied in the win over Austria (REUTERS)

One thing is for sure: Mbappe must change his mask, as UEFA insist only single-colour masks be worn in matches, but in whatever accessory he dons, his presence is a major boost for France.

Deschamps has been in the dugout for 12 years now, winning the 2018 World Cup, 2021 Nations League and reaching the finals of both Qatar 2022 and Euro 2016. The second half of his tenure has been defined by building the team around Mbappe, recognising his extraordinary talent and letting it flourish.

Mbappe is likely to start as France’s nominal striker tonight, in front of wingers Ousmane Dembele and Marcus Thuram, and No10 Antoine Griezmann. Yet, Mbappe will be given licence to roam at the Leipzig Stadium, similar to how he stretched Austria’s defence down the left, ran behind them centrally and assisted the winner with a burst of pace and cross from the right.

Mbappe is still to score a European Championship goal. What a time this would be to net his first.

Deschamps will likely keep faith with a double pivot of N’Golo Kante, 33, and Adrien Rabiot, 29, in midfield. His use of Rabiot has often been a source of frustration for the French public, while recalling Kante — now of Saudi side Al Ittihad — for this tournament was a shock. But both were exceptional on Monday and will be key if France are to win tonight’s midfield battle.

France versus Holland is a rivalry that has reared its head plenty in recent years, but it has left the Dutch with bad memories. Of seven meetings since 2016, France have won six times, Holland just once.

Ronald Koeman will have been left a little concerned by his side’s performance in their opening 2-1 win over Poland. They had more shots and more possession, but for long periods were unable to get a foothold. Fans will hope that has been addressed this week.

Xavi Simons, playing on the right of their front three, certainly caught the eye and will tonight be returning to the ground where he enjoyed a superb season on loan from Paris Saint-Germain.

Holland’s greatest goal threat, though, will be Memphis Depay, whose club career has at times flattered to deceive. At international level, with 45 goals from 93 caps, he is a different beast.

While Koeman is likely to stick with the centre-back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Stefan de Vrij, there is a case for calling on the remarkable recovery pace of Tottenham’s Micky van de Ven. Mbappe, Dembele and Thuram will, after all, take some stopping.