France 4 Netherlands 0
Captain, vice captain, whatever – France remain a joy to behold. Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann shared the glory, dovetailing as if the Qatar World Cup never ended, wiping the Netherlands off the Saint-Denis grass with three goals inside 21 minutes.
Mbappé made fools of the Dutch before the finish, putting Daley Blind on his backside before sweeping his second to the far corner.
It became so desperate so quickly for Ronald Koeman’s side that Wout Weghorst lumbered on to the pitch after 32 minutes. Out ball time, the initial Koeman plan utterly ruined by Les Bleus dashing into an insurmountable lead as the Mexican Wave flowed around Stade de France.
Weghorst’s massive frame won a penalty in injury time that Memphis Depay hit straight at Mike Maignan.
Unfortunately, the Netherlands are not due in Dublin until September 13th. Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland would love a cut off them on Monday night but, instead, they must settle for the most lethal attacking force in world football.
France shredded a hapless, rejigged Dutch defence, making Koeman look like an outdated tactician, although it is questionable if his methods were ever in-vogue.
The 60 year old’s second stint as Oranje manager has been cursed. Frenkie de Jong and Steven Bergwijn withdrew injured before Matthijs de Ligt, Sven Botman, Joey Veerman, Bart Verbruggen and Cody Gakpo were felled by food poisoning.
Add Denzel Dumfries’ suspension, for his sending off in that insane World Cup defeat to Argentina, and Koeman really needed a smooth start.
A master of high line defending during his own epic career in the 1980s and 1990s, he will have nightmares about this Parisian night.
By the eighth minute, France had floored the Dutch twice, mainly due to glaring errors by Kenneth Taylor and goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
Taylor helped shatter the French media narrative about unrest between Griezmann and Mbappé after Didier Deschamps chose the latter as captain. Losing possession twice in quick succession, not 100 seconds was played when Taylor was unburdened by Griezmann and the ball was pushed to Mbappé on the left.
Instinctively, Virgil van Dijk’s back four retreated, allowing Griezmann ghost into the box and curl the return pass beyond Cillessen. Taylor, criminally, failed to track the 32 year old’s trot. GAA-style, he was hooked after a half-hour.
Not two minutes clocked and the French public was basking in the embrace of Mbappé and Griezmann. Assist and goal, like nothing had happened behind the scenes.
Jurrien Timber’s needless push on Randal Kolo Muani led to the second goal as Griezmann whipped his free kick towards Cillessen, who looked nothing like a 60 cap veteran when fumbling the cross to allow Dayot Upamecano bundle it over the line.
The nightmare was only beginning. Mbappé scored from his first sprint behind a calamitous defence. Kolo Muani stepped over Aurélien Tchouaméni’s pass but Lutsharel Geertruida was badly exposed on debut, playing Mbappé onside.
The 24 year old has 21 goals in his last 18 internationals for a 38 total from 67 caps.
Only Weghorst heroics denied Mbappé a spectacular volley and Cillessen’s best Gordon Banks impression saved Ibrahima Konaté downward header to keep out a fourth goal before half-time.
The Dutch have a litany of excuses but so do the French. Before kick-off the recently retired Raphaël Varane and Hugo Lloris were serenaded on the pitch (current Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema refused the same invite).
Despite losing these generational stars, Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté and Milan goalie Mike Maignan slipped into a rock solid defence, brilliantly marshalled by Dayot Upamecano.
If Evan Ferguson or any Irish player manages to poke holes in this rearguard on Monday, it will be a phenomenal achievement. Depay came closest on 57 minutes but Maignan saved Tchouaméni’s blushes after the Real Madrid midfielder inanely picked up a punctured ball, while in play.
He was lucky to avoid a yellow card but the same cannot be said for Adrien Rabiot. Still, the French holding midfielders remain impervious.
No Giroud, no Benzema, and while Kolo Muani offers superior athleticism, the Eintracht Frankfurt striker, the man who could have altered history in the last seconds of the World Cup final, volleyed a clear chance over the crossbar as the second-half rumbled to a certain conclusion.
Group B to qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany next June is up and running as Greece thumped Gibraltar 3-0 at Estádio Algarve, another familiar patch of land for Kenny’s Ireland.
FRANCE: Maignan; Koundé, Konaté, Upamecano, Hernández; Tchouameni (Camavinga 76), Rabiot (K Thuram 89); Griezmann (Fofana 76); Coman (Diaby 67), Kolo Muani (Giroud 76), Mbappé.
NETHERLANDS: Cillessen; Timber, Geertruida (Malacia 87), Van Dijk, Aké; De Roon (Blind 67), Wijnaldum, Taylor (Weghorst 33); Berghuis (Malen 68), Depay, Simons (Klaassen 68).
Referee: Maurizio Mariani (Italy).