Wales were well beaten by impressive France in a friendly in Paris – but the match offered hope for the visitors with the emergence of a next generation of young players.
France made a blistering start, with Kylian Mbappe hitting the crossbar before Antoine Griezmann’s neat volley on the turn gave the dominant hosts a richly-deserved lead.
They eased off a little from that point but their myriad attacking threats combined dangerously throughout and, after missing several chances, the home side doubled their advantage through Olivier Giroud’s deflected effort.
It was a fortuitous goal but no more than France’s play warranted, with Les Bleus twice hitting the woodwork as Wales’ goal came under siege.
Despite being outplayed for much of the game, Wales will take heart from the promising performances of Chelsea’s 17-year-old defensive midfielder Ethan Ampadu and Sheffield United forward David Brooks, who impressed after coming on for their debuts in the second half.
With Liverpool’s 18-year-old forward Ben Woodburn introduced at the same point for his fifth cap, the sight of three talented young Welsh players on the field felt like a significant moment for Wales’ future.
Wales’ bright future?
Chris Coleman’s future was the dominant theme in the build-up to the game, with the Wales manager yet to decide if he will stay in the role and set to formally start negotiations over a new contract after Tuesday’s friendly at home to Panama.
Whereas Coleman has earmarked that fixture in Cardiff as a chance to experiment with a youthful side, he knew Wales would need to be as close to full strength as possible to handle a formidable France team in Paris.
They were hampered by the continued absence of Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale, as well as the withdrawals of a handful of other players such as experienced striker Hal Robson-Kanu.
It therefore came as little surprise that the visitors were thoroughly outplayed, with Welsh fans offering ironic cries of “ole” after each pass their team made during a rare spell of possession in the first half.
Wales reverted to a five-man defence in an attempt to contain the attacking threats of Griezmann, Mbappe and company, but often found themselves over-run and pinned back in their own half.
However, they clung on and managed an effort on target after one counter-attack, right-back Chris Gunter shooting tamely at Steve Mandanda as he searched for a first international goal on his 84th appearance for his country.
The most significant moment of the game from a Welsh perspective arrived on 64 minutes, as Ampadu and Brooks came on for their debuts alongside Woodburn, their introduction adding pace and invention that had been lacking in Wales’ display.
Both Ampadu and Brooks are eligible to play for England and, although friendly fixtures are not binding, the sight of the two players next to fellow fledgling talent Woodburn was one that suggested there is reason for Wales to be optimistic in the wake of their failure to qualify for the World Cup.
France show World Cup credentials
Having qualified comfortably for the World Cup, France are already being touted as potential winners of next year’s tournament in Russia and, on this evidence, the hype is justified.
Didier Deschamps has a wealth of attacking options from which to choose, and it was Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann and Paris St-Germain’s Mbappe – set to become the second most expensive player of all time – who shone brightest here.
Griezmann was the graceful link between midfield and attack, while Mbappe married his electric pace with intelligent distribution that kept the Wales defence guessing.
At just 18 years old, the potential of the striker PSG have signed from Monaco is enormous.
Their selection alongside Arsenal’s Giroud and Kingsley Coman of Bayern Munich meant the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial were on the bench, while Barcelona’s £135.5m Ousmane Dembele was missing through injury.
Deschamps’ task is finding a balance that allows these precocious talents to thrive without the team losing its shape, and it is the dynamic Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso who provide a solid platform in midfield.
Their strength in depth extends to defence too, with the hosts able to rest Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane against Wales, although it was a comfortable night for France’s backline.
France appear to have the talent and depth to prosper in Russia next year.
Man of the match – Kylian Mbappe (France)
Quotes – ‘France the best team we’ve played’
Wales manager Chris Coleman: “We had to do a lot of running – they are a super talented team. We’re in a transitional period now and will be for the next 12 months.
“France have momentum and they’re probably the best team we’ve ever played against.
“But it was great experience for our young players. We’ve got another gear in us but I think that’s a psychological thing after the disappointment of the qualifying campaign.”
Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey told BBC One Wales: “They’re a great team with so many options so it was a tough task for us tonight.
“We took a bit of time to get going but in the end we did create a few dangerous opportunities.
“It was always going to be difficult but it’s great experience as well for the younger boys coming on.
“Hopefully now we can learn from this as well and get together now and build on it for what is going to be a very important European campaign.”