Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark


PARIS – With injuries and problems off the field on the rise, France coach Didier Deschamps has at least one less worry ahead of the World Cup: Aurélien Tchouaméni seems like a very good option to start in midfield.

Tchouaméni is 22 with just 13 caps but is already playing with the maturity of a veteran international and with Paul Pogba’s place in Qatar in doubt his form is a welcome one for Deschamps.

Tchouaméni excelled as France beat nine regulars including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, forward Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Pogba 2-0 against Austria in the Nations League on Thursday night.

The young midfielder will get another chance to stake his claim to a permanent spot when Les Bleus travel to Denmark for their final Nations League group game against Denmark on Sunday – the last game for either side before the World Cup.

It should also be a tight game as the Danes are still fighting for first place in Group 1 and a spot in next year’s Final Four.

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Defending champions France lost their title back in June and are battling with Austria to stay up in the league. Bottom Austria, a point behind France, host Croatia, who are leaders but just a point ahead of Denmark.

His own form and other circumstances accelerated Tchouaméni’s international career.

Pogba is recovering from a knee injury and is being charged with an extortion investigation involving his older brother Mathias.

Like Mbappé and Martial, he came through in Monaco – which boasts one of the best scouting networks in Europe.

Real Madrid paid €100m to sign Tchouaméni in the off-season and then sold Casemiro to Manchester United.

That Casemiro is rarely missed by Madrid fans speaks volumes for how easily Tchouaméni has established himself in a side that tops the league with six straight wins.

So what makes Tchouameni so good?

He is the complete midfield package. But perhaps his greatest quality is composure.

He showed that a year ago on his first start for France in a World Cup qualifier in Ukraine when it looked like he had been playing at international level for years.

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Much like Pogba, he is a tall, lean and athletic player who always plays with his head held high. He has a sure first touch wherever he receives the ball, spraying short or long passes with equal effect.

He showed that against Austria by pinging a 50-yard pass at Mbappé, which not only landed in front of the striker’s feet but got in his way as he ran. That was just minutes into the game when fewer players would have settled.

Rarely wasteful, Tchouaméni has the same talent as Kanté when it comes to quickly letting go of the ball and getting it to a better-placed teammate.

It may look obvious, but it means Tchouaméni – like Kanté – rarely gets possession of the ball and his calmness allows him to shrug off players who attack him in the penalty area.

Even under pressure from an Austrian striker on the edge of his own box, Tchouaméni dropped his shoulders, turned and completed a clean pass as casually as if it were a pre-season training session.

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He drops low to collect, is fast and gets along well with his delicate running style.

Tchouaméni is good at running late into the opponent’s box and isn’t shy about shooting either after saving a 20-metre shot and then hitting the crossbar against Austria with a spectacular overhead kick that shows a technique , which is appropriate for an attacking player.

Another bright spot for Deschamps was the form of Benoît Badiashile in a three-man defense and Monaco team-mate Youssouf Fofana in central midfield.

Left-footed Badiashile impressed with his pass from behind while Fofana effectively captured the ball.

Olivier Giroud also made a strong showing for the World Cup squad with a goal and an assist against Austria. He has scored 49 international goals, just two shy of Thierry Henry’s national record.

Giroud and Tchouameni could play a big role in Qatar.

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