Bernardo Silva: Transfer speculation won’t distract me from Man City trophy hunt

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - PARIS: Chelsea defender Wesley Fofana and the Nice midfielder Khephren Thuram were handed first call-ups to the France squad named by coach Didier Deschamps on Thursday as the World Cup runners-up prepare to start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign this month.

The Lens goalkeeper Brice Samba was also included after long-serving captain Hugo Lloris and his regular back-up Steve Mandanda both retired from international duty following 2018 world champions France’s defeat to Argentina in the final in Qatar in December.

Manchester United centerback Raphael Varane has also stood down from international football, while Karim Benzema’s France career is over too. He played no part at the World Cup after suffering an injury on the eve of the tournament.

“Even if the weeks have gone by, when you come so close to winning the biggest title of all it is not easy,” Deschamps said of the penalty shootout defeat in Doha.

“We need to try to feed off that, but without living in the past. The experience will help us, even if we mustn’t tell ourselves we have already qualified for the Euro just because we got to the World Cup final.”

Nice's midfielder Khephren Thuram (left) and Chelsea's defender Wesley Fofana. (AFP photos)

Deschamps, who must find a new captain following the departure of Lloris, is also without other high-profile names such as Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Ousmane Dembele and Christopher Nkunku, but Olivier Giroud is retained in the squad at the age of 36.

Giroud became France’s all-time record goal-scorer during the World Cup as he overtook Thierry Henry’s mark of 51 goals and scored his 53rd for his country in the quarter-final win over England.

Khephren Thuram, the 21-year-old Italy-born son of France legend Lilian Thuram, has been rewarded for his outstanding form in Ligue 1 with Nice.

The marauding midfielder is the younger brother of Borussia Moenchengladbach forward Marcus, who returns to the squad after featuring at the World Cup.

The 22-year-old center-back Fofana, who has been capped at Under-21 level, is set for a full France debut too after moving to Chelsea last August from Premier League rivals Leicester City.

Samba, who helped Nottingham Forest win promotion to the Premier League last year before returning to Ligue 1, is set to be a back-up in the goalkeeping department where Mike Maignan is the expected successor to Lloris.

The AC Milan shot-stopper missed the World Cup due to injury.

The only other member of the squad who did not go to Qatar is the Bayer Leverkusen forward Moussa Diaby, who has previously won eight caps.

France will host the Netherlands at the Stade de France next Friday in their opening qualifying match for next year’s European Championship, which will be staged in Germany.

They will then travel to Dublin to face Ireland on March 27, and will also take on Greece and Gibraltar in Group B, with the top two teams in the section both qualifying.

The matches will be France’s first since long-serving coach Deschamps signed an extension to his contract to stay until 2026.

France squad:

Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (West Ham United/ENG), Mike Maignan (AC Milan/ITA), Brice Samba (Lens)

Defenders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid/ESP), Wesley Fofana (Chelsea/ENG), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan/ITA), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool/ENG), Jules Kounde (Barcelona/ESP), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich/GER), William Saliba (Arsenal/ENG), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich/GER)

Midfielders: Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus/ITA), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid/ESP), Khephren Thuram (Nice), Jordan Veretout (Marseille)

Forwards: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich/GER), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen/GER), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan/ITA), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Moenchengladbach/GER)

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