- Associated Press - Thursday, March 18, 2021

PARIS (AP) - Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele was recalled to the France squad on Thursday after an absence of more than two years, with coach Didier Deschamps keen to use his speed and versatility in attack for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Dembele, who helped France win the World Cup in 2018, last played for his country in November of that year against the Netherlands.

“He’s always been an interesting player and he also has the capacity to play in several attacking positions,” Deschamps said. “He’s got his athletic qualities back and he’s always had the ability to make a difference.”

The 23-year-old Dembele has struggled with injury problems and inconsistency over the past two years. But he has found his form again to become a key player in Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman’s improving team, scoring eight goals to help the club move up to second place in the Spanish league and reach the Copa del Rey final.

“He’s had quite a few injuries, but for a few weeks now he’s had quite a lot of matches,” Deschamps said. “He’s found the level he had before.”

Deschamps included Dembele in a 26-man squad for this month’s qualifiers against Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dembele has scored two goals in 21 appearances for France, 13 of which have been as a substitute.

“He’s scoring goals, even though he could score more,” Deschamps said, perhaps referring to Dembele’s erratic finishing against Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League round-of-16 match. He missed four scoring chances in that game and also failed to pick out Lionel Messi in unmarked positions.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Lemar and Fulham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola also returned to the national team after a long time out.

Lemar, who has been in good form for the Spanish league leader, won the last of his 22 caps for Les Bleus in a European Championship qualifier in November 2019.

Areola, who has done well in Fulham’s relegation battle, played his third game for France in June 2019.


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