By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Kylian Mbappe rediscovered his touch in spectacular fashion as he grabbed a double to lead his side to a 2-1 away win against an injury-ravaged Netherlands and early qualification for Euro 2024 on Friday.
The World Cup runners-up, who will be joined in the June 14-July 14 tournament in Germany by Portugal and Belgium as one of the first three teams to qualify, kept a perfect record in Group B with six wins.
Portugal have also won all their matches in Group J after Goncalo Ramos’s goal and a double by Cristiano Ronaldo earned them a 3-2 home victory against Slovakia in Group J.
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Belgium went through in Group F with a 3-2 win away to Austria, who would themselves have qualified with a victory, as Dodi Lukebakio scored twice before Romelu Lukaku wrapped up the points after the break.
At the Johan Cruijff Arena, France were comfortable for more than 80 minutes, even if a couple of mistakes by goalkeeper Mike Maignan could have cost them dearly.
Mbappe, who left the training camp for a day for personal reasons this week, volleyed home in the seventh minute from Jonathan Clauss’s perfect cross before pointing to the sky with both hands.
It came as a relief for Mbappe, who had not scored in his last four competitive outings.
“I’m not one to worry, and especially not about Kylian. He showed today there was nothing to worry about,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“When he’s like this obviously France have more chances to win.”
Les Bleus allowed the hosts to gain a bit of confidence before the interval but Mbappe made sure there would be no comeback eight minutes into the second half.
The 24-year-old, who has had an inconsistent start to the season with Paris St Germain, collected a subtle layoff from Adrien Rabiot before curling a sublime shot into the far top corner from the edge of the box for his 42nd international goal.
It took him past France great Michel Platini into fourth place on the national team’s all-time top scorers list behind Olivier Giroud (54) Thierry Henry (51) and Antoine Griezmann (44).
Griezmann was playing a record-extending 81st consecutive game for France.
The Netherlands were without Cody Gakpo, Jurrien Timber, Sven Botman, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Mark Flekken, Memphis Depay, Noa Lang, Teun Koopmeiners, Tyrell Malacia, and Steven Berghuis because of injuries.
They reduced the arrears through Quilindschy Hartman in the 83rd minute with the 21-year-old’s first goal on his debut, and it was the first goal France conceded in the qualifying campaign.
“We’re happy with the result but it’s true that our goal was not to concede so it’s like a stain on our performance. We’re aiming for perfection,” midfielder Rabiot said.
Greece boosted their qualifying hopes with a 2-0 win in Ireland to take second place in the group on 12 points, three ahead of the Netherlands who have a game in hand.
France, who have not missed a Euros since 1988, next face Scotland in a friendly next week while the Netherlands travel to Greece for their next qualifier on Monday.