France 2-1 Denmark – Breaking The Lines
After starting their campaign with a 4-1 win against Australia, France beat Denmark 2-1 to become the first team to book a ticket to the Round of 16. Kylian Mbappé opened the scoring on the hour mark and Andreas Christensen made right after that. , and Mbappé picked up the winner in the 86th minute to secure three points and become the first defending champion since Brazil ’06 to avoid group stage elimination.
France relied on a 4+2 form to build their possession against a narrow 5-4-1 Danish center block, with Kasper Hjulmand’s side tend to prevent their opponent from enjoying central progression and forcing them to play wide; it seemed that France’s progression schedule was almost perfect for such intentions, with only four French players ranked high.
It was clear that Didier Deschamps was trying to entice a greater number of Danish players to come out and press the ball carrier so that they could then stretch the field vertically to clear space for France’s forwards to make decoy moves and behind run into the defense. , but the Danes nevertheless remained focused. Since France tended to advance through the full-back on the side (Theo Hernandez in this case), the winger on the side (Mbappé) had to drop to receive the ball and secure numerical advantage against Denmark’s inside wing ( Jesper Lindstrom).
Mbappé’s drop-down run was followed by Denmark’s full-back (Rasmus Kristensen) and even the support of additional French players (Aurélien Tchouaméni) faced Denmark’s nearby midfielder (Pierre-Emile Højbjerg) to get to the ball. move, while two other Danish players came closer to fill gaps and to gain more control over the situation (Andreas Cornelius & Joachim Andersen / Andersen & Højbjerg).
It is worth noting that such situations occurred at maximum field width, which means that there was an extra player against France: the touchline. France were then forced to return passes and change the direction of play, giving the Danish players time to react and rearrange themselves, or even try to use their ball-holding players’ dribbling skills in futile attempts to overcome that traffic.
France were forced to return the ball and switch play, giving their defenders (Raphael Varane / Theo Hernandez) time and space to carry the ball forward, and Antoine Griezmann (AM) fell back to catch up with his double pivots and this could prevent any midfield support for the likely 1V1 situation between France’s wingers (Ousmane Dembélé / Kylian Mbappé vs. Joakim Mæhle / Rasmus Kristensen).
But as Denmark’s previous mid-block was very compact, this could again trap the winger between two or more Dembélé/Mbappé, forcing Dembélé/Mbappé to switch games, again looking for the potential 1V1 situation before often relied on crosses, which although it was not exploited enough by Olivier Giroud (CF), these situations were a great source of France’s attacking threat.
But another major source of France’s attacking threat was their attacking transitions: having a player like Griezmann who has high positional awareness while his team has no possession (half-time attack) enabled him to receive passes from his defenders and game to switch from Denmark’s counter-pressure, where Mbappé / Dembélé / Theo were able to find enough space to use their pace and dribbling skills to create big chances; and from such transitions, France could score their opening goal.
France’s problems would arise if Denmark was in the second phase of construction. As a result of Mbappé’s failure to follow back, both Danish wingbacks were able to stretch the field high and wide and the inside wings were able to move vertically in both the central areas and half spaces to allow the team to switch between a 3-1-5-1 and a 3-2-3-2.
This would prevent the French midfielders from swapping the ball on diagonal passes when released by a Danish centre-back (Victor Nelsson in the example below), with the defender picking off the isolated wingback (Kristensen) with a swap to the under-loaded side.
The central defender had time to release the diagonal ball in defense of Denmark had the numerical advantage (3V2) while the opposite full-back was free or in the best of conditions, faced the French full-back (Theo) in 1V1 situations as the three Danish forwards sometimes held France’s four backs centrally.
France tended to fall back to a low bloc rather than invest more time in the mid bloc phase; as during the low block, the French lines were compact, coherent and able to overload the broad areas with at least numerical equity, while also having an extra defender around or in the box, as their opponent had relatively little attack density because they played with three men at the back.
France are one of three teams to seal their round of 16 qualification in the second group stage, along with Brazil and Portugal, and after flying past Australia and narrowly avoiding Denmark, they will look to top their group by beating Tunisia , while Olivier Giroud will look to increase his tally from two goals and surpass Thierry Henry as the all-time leading goalscorer in the history of the French national team.
Featured image: @GabFoligno / Franck Fife – AFP
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