Europe 1 with AFP 23:40 p.m., March 26, 2023

Under construction due to certain injuries or end of international career like that of Raphael Varane, Didier Deschamps could have found a new duo for the defense of the Blues. Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté, former teammates at Leipzig, show an unfailing complicity on the field.

Former accomplices in Leipzig, Ibrahima Konaté and Dayot Upamecano are now joining forces in the France team, where they have taken control of a poorly capped defence with authority, despite their young age, with Euro 2024 in sight. The two young rocks, expected as starters Monday in Dublin against Ireland, offered a cocktail of serenity, confidence and efficiency Friday against the Netherlands (4-0) at the start of qualifying, enough to delight Didier Deschamps.

"We are at the Stade de France, in front of 80,000 people, but for them it does not have too much control," relished Friday the coach, again dithyrambic Sunday in Dublin: "They exude a lot of athletic strength in the duel, speed, with a good head game, and they are not bothered with the ball ... That's a lot of quality for defenders."

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Between them, "Ibou" (23 years, 8 caps) and "Upa" (24 years, 13 caps) have only twenty caps, a relative inexperience of the international level yet little visible in the tricolor jersey. However, their CV already includes a World Cup, played in 2022 as a starter for Upamecano, and as official understudy to Raphael Varane (not fully recovered from injury) for Konaté.

The two friends were even associated with the kick-off of the first match, against Australia, and the final whistle against Argentina in the final. The pair now appears as the number one option in central defense, for reasons both lasting (international retirement of Varane) and circumstances (forfeit of Presnel Kimpembe and Lucas Hernandez).

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"Like my brother"

With Mike Maignan, the new goalkeeper of the Blue Temple at 27 years old, the back base of the France team has changed profoundly in a very short time. But she is accustomed, in clubs, to cross swords with the best in Europe. "Certainly they're both young but you see where they're playing? At Liverpool and Bayern Munich," Deschamps said after the match against the Netherlands. The coach can count on the complicity forged by the two guys in the jersey of Leipzig, between 2017 and 2021, with four seasons to refine their automatisms and a semi-final of the Champions League, in 2020, to reinforce their early learning.

"With Dayot we played together for a very long time, we have automatisms. It's like my brother because I had a wonderful time with him. We are constantly in contact outside of football," Konaté said in November from Qatar. With Bayern Munich, "we played them several times and it was not easy," Kingsley Coman also recalled, interviewed by the press in Doha.

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Thwarted flights

In selection, Upamecano pointed the tip of his nose in September 2020 and he was able to overcome a rather difficult start. "He was rather very successful at the club, a little less with us but through the World Cup he took another dimension, with more serenity, confidence," said Deschamps at the beginning of the March camp. Konate's international baptism was delayed by physical glitches, even if it seemed inevitable.

"Last year, he had a few injuries but he's so strong, he's fast," Liverpool partner Virgil van Dijk said on Friday. Against the Dutch, both defenders generally controlled the opposing lines well and brought danger offensively, with imposing ball rises or passes between the sharp lines. Upamecano conceded a penalty late in the game, without consequence as Maignan managed to divert it.

"There are obviously a lot of qualities, but it requires confirmation every time," Deschamps said, calling on Sunday the two former hopefuls to "maintain this level of performance over time". On Monday, their main challenge will be to contain Evan Ferguson, an 18-year-old phenomenon playing at Brighton, the number one attraction of the "Boys in green" in attack.