Although the illustrious friendly clash between two one-time World Cup winners France and Spain largely failed to capture the imagination of the sell-out Stade de France crowd on Tuesday night in Paris, Kylian Mbappe’s full international debut succeeded.
Video refereeing helping referee Felix Zwayer to rule out a second half Antoine Griezmann header and rule in a Gerard Deulofeu effort was about the extent of the excitement when the 18-year-old Monaco sensation was not on the ball in his 65 minutes of action in the 2-0 defeat.
Mbappe hails from the suburb of Bondy, not far from Saint-Denis where Les Bleus play most of their home matches, and immediately looked at home in Didier Deschamps’ starting XI.
Part of a front three that also featured Atletico Madrid pair Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro, Mbappe’s searing pace was a constant threat to the Spanish back line and the precocious talent made experienced defenders Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique uncomfortable numerous times.
Roared on by a vibrant home atmosphere early on, having paid tribute to the late Raymond Kopa and Jean Verbeke before kick-off, the French pressed early and Mbappe forced a smart save from Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea before Pique cleared the ball off his own line.
However, after that, Spain recovered and took control of the game. Julen Lopetegui’s men began to press with intensity high up the pitch and La Roja carved out a few good chances, with the evergreen Andres Iniesta particularly prominent.
France looked dangerous at the times they did manage to get forward, with Mbappe chief among their threats posed, but the hosts were undone time and again by their leaky defence. Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris, making a record-equalling 87th appearance for Les Bleus, was regularly tested.
Paris Saint-Germain left back Layvin Kurzawa was particularly guilty at the back and his being offside when Griezmann headed home early in the second half summed up a miserable evening for the defender.
David Silva made no mistake from the spot and although the goal flattered the second half performance from Lopetegui’s men, they were ultimately worth their lead overall. Deulofeu’s second was a little excessive but totally correct and helped to strengthen the case for video refereeing.
Mbappe’s full senior debut lasted 65 minutes before he was replaced by Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and once the rangy Gunners striker was introduced, the French looked even less of a threat up top than they had when he was on.
He also brought on Mbappe’s Monegasque teammates Tiemoue Bakayoko and Thomas Lemar in the second half, as well as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele.
As it was not a competitive international, Bakayoko can still play for the Ivory Coast in the future but his 45-minute outing demonstrated that he sees his future with Les Bleus and Deschamps views him as a potential part of it.
However, none seized their chance as well as Mbappe and the Monaco marvel’s incredible rise continues at pace as he gets ready to sink his teeth into Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals next month.
Olympique Lyonnais’ Christophe Jallet did provide a sumptuous lofted pass forward in the build-up to Griezmann’s disallowed goal but it was ultimately undone by Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny who let the back four down when he clumsily fouled Deulofeu to give Spain the decisive penalty.
Despite the poor performance and result, the former 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship-winning captain can be encouraged by the showings of some of the youngsters he gave chances to. The Monaco gem was not the only bright youngster on display; Deschamps included PSG’s Adrien Rabiot, Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Lyon’s Corentin Tolisso in an experimental starting XI in the capital.