Paris (AFP) – After watching from the sidelines as Kylian Mbappe earned France a 1-0 win in Sweden over the weekend, Eduardo Camavinga eclipsed even the Paris Saint-Germain star Tuesday as he became the country’s youngest player since 1914 against Croatia.
Camavinga, aged 17 years and nine months, replaced N’Golo Kante in the second half of a 4-2 victory — an identical repeat of the 2018 World Cup final — in France’s first home international since an unconvincing win over Moldova last November.
In doing so the Angolan-born teenager beat the post-World War II record set in 1955 by Maryan Wisnieski, aged 18 years and two months, and Mbappe who made his France debut in 2017 at 18 years and three months.
Only Julien Verbrugghe, aged 16 years and 10 months in 1906, and Maurice Gastiger, at 17 years and 4 months in 1914, appeared for Les Bleus at a younger age than Camavinga.
“He was very good. He brings freshness, even more so for us older players,” France captain Hugo Lloris said of Camavinga’s lively 27-minute cameo at the Stade de France.
“He also has this presence on the pitch. He sees the game before everyone else and on his first appearance he was able to have an impact and help the team. It was a super start for him.”
The Rennes midfielder shot to prominence during a 2019/20 season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, having already written himself into the club’s record books as its youngest ever player in April last year.
The global health crisis incidentally opened the door for Camavinga’s inclusion in the squad, named as a replacement for Paul Pogba who tested positive for Covid-19 just before the list was announced.
“It’s early perhaps but he has the potential that will make him become an integral part of this team sooner or later,” said coach Didier Deschamps, who made a rare promise to give Camavinga playing time after announcing his call-up.
“May he keep his natural style and stay as he is,” Deschamps urged.
– ‘Very nice kid’ –
Camavinga, who moved to France aged two with his Congolese parents and only acquired French nationality in November, is adamant he will stay at Rennes this season despite interest from Europe’s top clubs and notably Real Madrid.
Rennes finished third in Ligue 1 last term, the best performance in the club’s history, and will play in the Champions League for the first time.
“He is powerful, he is unsettling, he throws you off balance. He has the qualities to be at a very high level. What’s happening to him is fantastic,” said Rennes coach Julien Stephan, whose father Guy is an assistant to Deschamps with the national team.
Camavinga, who still lives at home with his parents, evokes fond memories from those who helped him on his path towards stardom in his early days in the Breton town of Fougeres, about 50km north-east of Rennes.
“He was a little fragile physically, but technically he was already way above, he was unbelievable,” Christophe Communier, a youth team coach of Camavinga’s at the under-13 level, recounted to AFP.
His character and good nature also deeply impressed those who came across Camavinga, “a very nice kid, who always had a smile and who has not forgotten where he comes from.”
“What’s good about Eduardo is that he shines on the pitch and he shines in life,” added Communier.
Camavinga, for his part, said the experience gleaned from playing with older age groups as a child has served him well ahead of a career destined for the very top.
“I have often played against older players and I think that has allowed me to have a certain amount of maturity,” Camavinga said in the wake of his historic debut.
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