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France coach Deschamps signs new contract

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PARIS — France coach Didier Deschamps has extended his contract until 2022, giving him a chance to defend the World Cup title.

Since taking charge after the 2012 European Championship the former France captain has guided Les Bleus to the Euro 2016 final on home soil before winning the World Cup in Russia last year.

That made him one of only three coaches in soccer history to have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach, along with Mario Zagallo (Brazil) and Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany).

“I’m proud and honored to be the France coach. You know the attachment I still have for what this jersey represents,” Deschamps said Tuesday. “We are world champions (and) you are judged on your results. If France has not had good since results since 2012, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

Deschamps has formed a close relationship with French Football Federation president Noël Le Gräet, and they recently celebrated his national record-extending 100th game in charge. He has the highest number of wins (65) of any France coach, ahead of Michel Hidalgo and Raymond Domenech (tied on 41).

“It seems important for French football that Didier Deschamps stays in charge of the national team until December 31, 2022, in other words until the end of the World Cup in Qatar,” Le Gräet said Tuesday. “Furthermore, there is no arguing with his results (so) it’s a very logical decision.”

France will again be among the favorites at Euro 2020, with Le Gräet setting Deschamps the usual target of reaching at least the semifinals.

“Our team is among the best in the world today, second in the FIFA rankings,” Le Gräet said. “It wouldn’t be very serious not to have high expectations.”

Deschamps is also unique in having both played for and coached France at least 100 times, making 103 international appearances as a gritty but technically assured central midfielder with outstanding leadership and organizational skills. Since replacing former France teammate Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012, he has taken those same qualities into his coaching.

But his new contract is unlikely to be good news for Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker who remains sidelined since falling out of favor with Deschamps four years ago in a bitter fallout following Benzema’s alleged involvement in a sex-tape scandal.

Deschamps has shown both great loyalty and a ruthless streak, in keeping his faith in striker Olivier Giroud – despite Giroud being left out of the Chelsea side this season – and maintaining his hardliner position in overlooking Benzema despite his outstanding performances for Madrid.

“I’m happy in my job,” Deschamps said. “I have the best French players with a remarkable team spirit. There are many great things still to be done.”

EURO 2020 draw: Group F a nightmare with Germany, France, Portugal

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Germany, France, and Portugal have been drawn into a nightmare Group F at EURO 2020, while England will meet World Cup runners-up Croatia in group play.

Groups A and B are known in full, with Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, and Wales in the former and Belgium, Russia, Denmark, and Finland in the latter.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Four spots remain in play between Groups C, D, E, and F, as 16 teams will contest the playoffs this Spring.

The winner of the playoff path C, contested by Norway, Serbia, Scotland, and Israel, will join Group F.

What do you think?

Group A
Italy
Switzerland
Turkey
Wales

Group B
Belgium
Russia
Denmark
Finland

Group C
Ukraine
Netherlands
Austria
(Playoff winner path D/A – Romania, Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia, Kosovo)

Group D
England
Croatia
Czech Republic
(Playoff winners path C – Norway, Serbia, Scotland, Israel)

Group E
Spain
Poland
Sweden
(Playoff winners path B – Ireland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Group F
Germany
France
Portugal
(Playoff winners path A/D – Bulgaria, Finland, Iceland, Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia, Kosovo)

Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante sues former agent for fraud

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PARIS — The Paris prosecutor’s office says France midfielder N’Golo Kante has filed a lawsuit against his former image agent, citing fraud and breach of trust.

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The complaint filed this week by the Chelsea midfielder against Nouari Khiari also includes “attempted fraud” and “illegal exercise of the profession of sports agent.”

According to L’Equipe newspaper, which first reported the story, Kante was introduced to Khiari by friends and family members. The pair started their working relationship in July 2016 but tensions quickly arose and Kante decided to put an end to their partnership a year later, accepting to pay 150,000 euros for Khiari to severe their professional ties.

According to the sports daily, Kante claims that his former associate kept all the copies of their deal and later pressured him to get more money.

Another cause for their deteriorated relationship was Khiari’s attempts to influence Kante’s career choices. L’Equipe said the agent tried to convince Kante to move away from Chelsea during the 2018 summer to join Real Madrid.

“I was too kind,” Kante told L’Equipe. “I wanted to believe in this person’s honesty and sincerity. But he was only driven by the financial aspects.”

EURO qualifying wrap: France, Iceland, Turkey earn wins

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With their tickets already booked to next summer’s big tournament, France and Turkey picked up wins in Sunday’s Euro qualifying action, which saw defending champions Portugal clinch qualification.

[ READ: Defending champions Portugal qualify to EURO 2020 ]


Albania 0-2 France

Albania opened their new, 22,500-seat stadium with a hard-fought loss against France.

Early on, Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso gave the impression that the home fans were in for a long night at the inaugurating Air Albania Stadium, opening the score just eight minutes in with a well-placed header. In the 31st minute, an unfamiliar face, Leo Dubois, connected with Antoine Griezmann, who slotted the ball into the bottom-right corner. France finish the qualifiers leaders of Group H with 25 points. Throughout the 10 matches, the world champions lost only once, a 2-0 loss against Turkey.

Andorra 0-2 Turkey

Real Valladolid’s Enes Unal scored a first-half brace as Turkey coasted past Andorra 2-0. Turkey, who clinched a spot next summer after finishing Group H two points behind France, controlled possession and chances at goal.

Moldova 1-2 Iceland

Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson scored the visitor’s second and winning goal in the second half, as Iceland walked away from Zimbru Stadium with a 2-1 win on Sunday.

With 19 points throughout 10 games, Rúnar Kristinsson and company felt five points short of qualifying directly for next year’s competition. That said, they’ll partake in the Euro 2020 playoffs, looking to squeeze their way in.

Elsewhere

Luxembourg 0-2 Portugal

Serbia 2-2 Ukraine

Kosovo 0-4 England

Bulgaria 1-0 Czech Republic

Le Graet says Benzema will never play for France again

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France Football president Noel le Graet says Karim Benzema will never play for France again, and Benzema is furious.

The head man said Saturday that Benzema will not return to the French national team, despite calls for the Real Madrid striker to make his return to the national team. Benzema has not played for France since 2015, frozen out as part of the fallout from the Mathieu Valbuena sex tape affair.

It is that incident and that alone that has kept Benzema off the field for Les Blues, said le Graet. “For me, Benzema is a very good player. I have never criticised his qualities,” le Graet told RMC Sport on Saturday. “On the contrary, he is proving again this year at Madrid that he is one of the best players in his position. But the adventure with France is over.”

Benzema responded soon after on social media, pleading for a chance to play again and firing back at le Graet’s suggestion that he is done.

“Noël, I thought that you did not interfere with the decisions of the national team coach!” Benzema wrote on Twitter. “Know that it will be me and me alone who decides when my international career is over. If you think that I am finished, let me play for a country that I am eligible to play for and we will see.”

Benzema was also eligible to play for Algeria before choosing France, but according to FIFA rules, he cannot switch to another national team having racked up 81 career appearances for Les Blues.

Pressure from fans to call in Benzema has increased with Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann both in poor form, leaving Kylan Mbappe to shoulder much of the attacking load. Benzema, meanwhile, has scored 11 goals in 15 appearances for Real Madrid across all competitions this season. French publication L’Equipe ran a poll asking whether Benzema was the best striker in France, and 73% of responses indicated “yes.”