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Mbappe transfer overshadows crunch France qualifier

Paris (AFP) – France coach Didier Deschamps must ensure any distractions caused by the impending transfer deadline are put to one side as his team face the Netherlands in a crunch World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

The build-up to the game at the Stade de France has been overshadowed by talk of striker Kylian Mbappe’s sensational transfer from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain.

The move had still not been made official as Deschamps and his squad, including Mbappe, gathered to train at the national stadium on the eve of the match, which will be played just as the record-breaking transfer window closes in France and most of Europe.

Mbappe’s Monaco and France colleague Thomas Lemar, the subject of interest from Liverpool, is another who has been making headlines this week. However, France captain Hugo Lloris played down suggestions that any transfer talk is causing minds to wander.

“The transfer window is more of interest to you (the media) than us. We are more focused on the games coming up. We need to prepare and have only had a few days to do so,” said the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper on Wednesday.

“I don’t need to emphasise that all our heads are focused on the game.”

Left out of the Monaco side in recent weeks, Mbappe may not start the match, while Ousmane Dembele was not included in the squad due to the distraction of his transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona.

Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman could therefore be recalled for this potentially decisive encounter, with only three more qualifiers to follow and both sides’ hopes of making it to next year’s finals in Russia on the line.

Only the winners of each section progress automatically, with the runners-up hoping to drop into play-offs in November, and the French and the Dutch currently trail Group A leaders Sweden.

France sit behind the Swedes on goal difference, their relatively serene progress slowed by a shock 2-1 defeat in Stockholm in June brought about by a catastrophic late error from Lloris.

– Van Persie return? –

Meanwhile, the Netherlands are three points further back in third, so a defeat in Paris and a win for Sweden in Bulgaria at the same time could be fatal to their chances.

That would be a terrible blow for the Dutch, who came third in the World Cup in Brazil but followed that up by failing to qualify for Euro 2016 in France and are still trying to recover from that setback.

“They had a great World Cup in 2014 and a lot of players are still there, very experienced ones to go with the new generation coming through. They remain a good side,” insisted Deschamps when asked for his view on the apparent decline of the ‘Oranje’ in recent years.

The Dutch lost 1-0 at home to France last October and a 2-0 defeat in Bulgaria in March cost coach Danny Blind his job.

The veteran Dick Advocaat, approaching 70, has returned for a third spell in charge on a mission to rescue their campaign.

He could hand veteran Fenerbahce striker Robin van Persie, now 34, a first cap in almost two years, while Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder should feature. Behind that trio, though, the Dutch lack the fearsome depth of their opponents.

“France are a very strong team. They could send out three separate very good sides. We’ll need to be solid and well organised,” said Advocaat.

France, who follow up Thursday’s game by hosting Luxembourg in Toulouse on Sunday, are without injured Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane so Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti is likely to play.

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