France's forward Kylian Mbappe wears a face mask during a training session at the Home Deluxe Arena Stadium in Paderborn, western Germany, on June 27. Image Credit: AFP

Dusseldorf: France captain Kylian Mbappe admitted that playing with a mask to protect his broken nose was “absolutely horrible” as he prepared for Monday’s last-16 clash with Belgium at Euro 2024.

“I didn’t think it would be, but playing with a mask is absolutely horrible,” Mbappe told reporters on the eve of the game in Duesseldorf.

Mbappe broke his nose in a collision in France’s opening game at the Euros, a 1-0 win against Austria on June 17.

That forced him to miss the next match, a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, but he returned for the last outing, a 1-1 stalemate against Poland, while wearing a mask.

He will again have to don the protection against Belgium, but Mbappe said sporting a mask was so uncomfortable he had already tried out several different ones.

“I have changed because every time there was something that wasn’t right,” said the new Real Madrid signing.

“It is really difficult. It limits your vision and the sweat gets blocked up so you have to take it off to let it run away.

“As soon as I can take it off I will do, but I don’t have a choice. That is how my tournament is going to be. I can only play like that.

“It is really annoying, but I have to just say thanks to the mask.”

France and Belgium meet in a repeat of their semi-final clash at the 2018 World Cup, which Les Bleus won 1-0 on the way to lifting the trophy.

Both teams qualified for the last 16 in second place in their respective groups, each winning just one game and scoring only two goals.

“The quality and quantity of chances we made in the first three games was unbelievable,” said the Belgium coach, Domenico Tedesco.

“It is unbelievable that we scored only two goals in three games, and France too, but this is football.”

Securing qualification

Belgium needed to hold on for a 0-0 draw with Ukraine in their last outing to secure qualification for the last 16 after a campaign which began with a 1-0 loss to Slovakia.

Tedesco said it would be unfair to judge his team solely on the outcome of the game against the side who lost the 2022 World Cup final.

“It is a tough opponent, so it would be hard to just measure all our performances of the last weeks or year by what happens in one game,” he said.

“But of course it is a special game. We have this feeling already after losing the first game against Slovakia, that against Romania and Ukraine it was kind of an in or out game anyway.

“There has been no moment in this tournament where we could relax for two days.”