THE dates are yet to be announced but for Allan Saint-Maximin, the countdown to World Cup 2026 has already begun.
Saint-Maximin, 25, was tipped to break into Didier Deschamps’ squad for Qatar, only for injuries to scupper his chances.
But the fit-again forward has already bounced back from the disappointment with an eye-catching performance off the bench in Newcastle’s 1-0 Carabao Cup win over Bournemouth on Tuesday.
Saint-Maximin is good pals with World Cup final hat-trick hero Mbappe and wingers Ousmane Dembele and Marcus Thuram.
And with the likes of 36-year-old striker Olivier Giroud unlikely to be around in 3 and a half years, Saint-Maximin knows the time could be ripe for him to break into his country’s squad.
He said: “Playing for France would mean everything for me.
“I hope that one day I have the chance to show my qualities for Les Bleus. Of course, it will not be easy. Everyone saw the character of the players in the World Cup final and it is a team full of talent.
“But if I keep working hard and playing well for Newcastle, I hope to get noticed.
“It is not as if I am at a small club. We are third in the best league in the world so that can only help.”
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The St James’ Park star added: “I really don’t know how close I am to selection.
“There was talk of a call-up earlier this season but I came back from injury just two weeks before the World Cup started, which was not good enough to break into the squad.
“I do believe I am good enough to play with friends in the national team.
“I can help them and they can help me become a better player.”
Saint-Maximin might still be coming to terms with the disappointment of his country losing that penalty shootout to Argentina in the Doha final six days ago.
But Toon head coach Eddie Howe knows that if the high-flying Magpies are to sustain their place in the top four, he will need the forward at his mesmerising best.
They head to Leicester on Boxing Day sitting third in the table, despite Saint-Maximin being restricted to just seven league games so far — with his last start back in August.
It is not as if I am at a small club. We are third in the best league in the world so that can only help.
It is a frightening prospect for Newcastle’s rivals if he is fit and in-form for the rest of the season, especially with a potential French call-up dominating his thoughts.
But regaining his place in the Newcastle side and helping Howe’s side qualify for Europe are his more immediate goals.
He said: “Right now, I just want Newcastle to do well.
“That is my focus and I am very excited about the rest of the season.
“Leicester will be tough because they have recovered after a bad start and have excellent players.
“And like us, they won in the cup during the week and will feel confident. Playing European football next season is a huge challenge but I am sure we are capable.
“The way the club is now, I believe we can achieve great things.”
Greatness with Newcastle will also help Saint-Maximin fulfil his French dream.