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 By Ian Holyman

Wissam Ben Yedder and Lucas Hernandez handed France call-ups

Wissam Ben Yedder and Lucas Hernandez have been handed first call-ups by France coach Didier Deschamps ahead of this month's friendlies with Colombia and World Cup hosts Russia.

Ben Yedder has not played for his country since the last of three under-21 appearances in October 2012.

But after his decisive two-goal cameo appearance in Sevilla's 2-1 Champions League triumph at Manchester United on Tuesday, the 27-year-old has been handed a chance to play himself into Deschamps' World Cup squad.

"It's not his two goals at Old Trafford that changed things, even if it was to his credit. It was a top-level game, the Champions League, and he won it for his team, but it confirmed all the good he has done over a number of seasons now," said Deschamps, who was deprived of Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette through injury.

"He may have had an atypical career, coming through from futsal where it's a different technique with the ball. But he has a low centre of gravity, and is very good technically.

"It's true he's not going to be very good in the air, but he's good in front of goal. He's in the spotlight because of the match in Manchester, but he has scored lots of goals, regularly. He's intelligent in his movement, and is very quick with his feet.

"You saw that with the first goal against United, and he was up against [Eric] Bailly, who wasn't born yesterday. Right foot, left foot, it's not really a problem for him."

Ben Yedder, who joined Sevilla from Toulouse in 2016, scored 18 times in 26 starts in all competitions last season and has found the net 14 times in just 20 starts in La Liga and the Champions League this term, even though new coach Vincenzo Montella has more often than not consigned him to the substitutes' bench at kickoff since taking charge in December.

"Thank you very much everyone," Ben Yedder tweeted shortly after Deschamps revealed his squad. "It's a source of happiness for me for which I have no words. Everyone knows how much I had been hoping for and worked for this day to come. It's a great source of pride for me and for you all, who have always supported me."

Ben Yedder is likely to make his senior debut when France welcome Colombia to the Stade de France in Paris on March 23 or in St. Petersburg against Russia four days later, games in which Hernandez could also feature for the first time.

The Atletico Madrid defender was born in Marseille but is eligible for Spain through his father, and French media reported only late last month the 22-year-old, who has made nine under-21 appearances for France, had opted to play for Spain at senior level.

Deschamps, however, insisted Hernandez was "very, very happy" to be called up, and denied the move was simply a cynical measure to prevent him opting for Spain.

"I will never take a player just to stop him choosing another country. When I pick someone, it's because I think it's the right time, and it's a plus for France. That's valid for Lucas and the others," he said.

"Also, as you know the rules, it's not friendly matches that are going to stop him playing for one country or another."

Wissam Ben Yedder's two goals against Manchester United helped Sevilla to a place in the UCL quarterfinals.

Deschamps added: "He's a young player, but he's used to international competition, and he's not been picked by accident. I decided it was the time for him to come."

Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard, who made his senior debut in November, was preferred to Mathieu Debuchy, who has made a rip-roaring start to his career at Saint-Etienne after leaving Arsenal in January.

Deschamps produced no other surprises, but did give his backing to Paul Pogba, under-fire for his performances at United.

"In September or October, people were questioning [Antoine] Griezmann, then [Kylian] Mbappe was in a slump, and now he's at the summit," said the France boss, referring to two of his strikers who have hit form in recent weeks after dips in form.

"No player can be at the top of his form for 10 months of the season. Paul is Paul. Perhaps he is having a tougher time, it's been a while since he had one. I know what he can do. Yes, he might be having a more difficult period, but it doesn't change what I think of him."

Ian is ESPN's French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman

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