Euro 2024: Mbappe “will” start v. Spain, but mask remains a major problem

Kylian Mbappe will start for France against Spain in the first Euro 2024 semifinal on Tuesday.

There is never much certainty when you reach the final week of major tournaments, but that’s one you can set in stone, take to the bank, lock in place and bet the house on.

Never mind that Mbappe has barely been able to perform at a fraction of his usual abilities. Or that he was unable to finish France’s quarterfinal against Portugal because of his diminished energy. Or that he loathes wearing his nose-protecting mask and cannot see, breathe, or anticipate at full capacity with it on.

“Even if he is not completely fit physically, he will play,” head coach Didier Deschamps confirmed to reporters on Monday when asked about Mbappe.

“We would have liked to have had one more day. We did our best to rest him, but I am convinced that he is in good mental condition. He had a problem with his back, then with the mask. It could have been the end, but he is still here with us.”

Despite Deschamps’ squad being arguably the deepest in the tournament, Mbappe is the one player worth taking a risk on. Such is the 25-year-old’s ability to drastically influence crucial games.

This is France’s biggest match since the 2022 World Cup final, when Mbappe scored an extraordinary hat-trick, plus another in the penalty shootout, but could not prevent Lionel Messi and Argentina from lifting the trophy.

Midfielder Adrien Rabiot said that temporary dips in form, like those suffered by Mbappe and veteran star Antoine Griezmann, should not be a cause for panic — or replacement.

“These are the players who can decide the game at any time,” Rabiot said. “We need them until the end — especially if we want to reach the final and win.”

Portugal vs. France Highlights | UEFA Euro 2024

Portugal vs. France Highlights | UEFA Euro 2024

Mbappe’s struggles to score have mirrored those Deschamps’ entire squad. There have been no goals from open play, just three in total — two own goals and a penalty. Three weeks ago, in the team’s opening game against Austria, Mbappe collided with defender Kevin Danso and broke his nose.

Late that night he asked for mask recommendations on social media. And here we are now, the epic Spain clash approaching, and the mask remains at the forefront.

One thing we know for certain is that playing in a mask is no fun.

[Kylian Mbappé mask drama is just like Clint Dempsey at 2014 World Cup]

“Horrible,” Mbappe said. “It limits your field of vision, your sweat clogs up and you need to let the sweat out.”

“You really don’t see anything,” Mbappe’s friend and teammate Randal Kolo Muani said, after trying it on. “Nothing. (But Kylian) was born for this. He was born to lift the group.”

Even Spain head coach Luis de la Fuente chimed in, having had some experience of masks due to a previous facial injury sustained by his defensive stalwart, Robin Le Normand.

“People have to know that a mask like this is quite limiting,” de le Fuente said. “Le Normand, he was not breathing normally, he got very tired and even had some muscle problems. 

“But, in any case, Mbappe at 80 percent is a lot of Mbappe, although it is true that his best version has not yet been seen and he has enormous potential.”

UEFA Euro 2024 Semi-Finals Gambling Guide

UEFA Euro 2024 Semi-Finals Gambling Guide

Jesus Navas, 38 years old and the only member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning team still on the squad, will deputize at right-back for the suspended Dani Carvajal, according to de la Fuente. From there, he will have the primary responsibility for monitoring Mbappe, in his left-sided attacking position.

“Mbappe is a player who has the ability to overwhelm,” de la Fuente added. “That is solved with help and cover by a teammate.”

True, although Spain’s right-sided central defender, Le Normand, is suspended too, and will make way for Nacho, who is 34 and bound for the Saudi Pro League.

That presents, surely, as an opening for Mbappe to get his and France’s scoring on track. The path is there, if only he can see it around that infernal mask.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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