The French team is not as deep as the world first feared
The good news for France was that they had already progressed to the Round of 16. The less reassuring news was that their coveted side seemed to lack the depth that many believed it possessed.
France’s defeat to Tunisia saw the reigning champions change nine of their eleven players from the previous game, joining the tournament’s most changed team to date. In itself an understandable move by manager Didier Deschamps; with his team already through as group winners, why not rest his key players before the tournament evolves into a knockout competition and he needs to be able to rely on them for possibly four games in 14 days.
However, what would have worried him is that this new team hardly resembled world champions.
Current World Cup champions are not favorites
Before a ball was kicked in Qatar, many spectators looked enviously at the French team. Their team was brimming with talent across the field and their front line alone left enough to cause concern for even the toughest of defenses. Moreover, they knew how to win, both the team and the manager collected the biggest prize in the sport.
But then the injuries came in, and not just to fringe players. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, the creativity and enforcement at the heart of their midfield, were both ruled out early. Raphaël Varane was forced off the pitch while on duty for Manchester United and his position was not guaranteed. His possible centre-back Presnel Kimpembe was also ruled out. Breakthrough striker Christpher Nkunku was injured in training, Karim Benzema was forced to withdraw and in the first game they lost their only established left back, Lucas Hernandez.
Suddenly the reserves had to become starters. A new and untested midfield combination Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot were called up. A likely third-choice centre-forward, Olivier Giroud was made first-choice, a second string of back four started in their opening game and the usually pragmatic Deschamps was forced to abandon his safety-first approach and recognize where his team’s strength lay. lay and start from the beginning with four attacking players.
For the first two games, this tactic worked fine. After an initially testing opener against Australia, where some players took time to unwind, they quickly found their flow and finished 4-1 winners. The next game, against a Danish team that had already beaten them twice this year, an inspired Kylian Mbappé guided them to a 2-1 victory.
France not as strong as first thought
Sitting at the top of the group and comfortable with the last 16, Deschamps can be forgiven for turning things up a bit. But perhaps what he did inadvertently in selecting such a modified eleven was to show the rest of the world that France’s B team is nowhere near as close to the A team as they feared.
The decline in quality was quite alarming to see. Players such as the hugely promising Real Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga were played out of position, there was a lack of pace across the squad and a blunt attack that saw them comfortably outplayed against the team ranked 30th in the world.
In each tournament, a team has an off-day. A match when, for some reason, things just don’t click. In this case, at least for France, they can find out the reason. It is now up to them to make sure their first team doesn’t lose their form, because if the match against Tunisia is used as proof, their second team will be unable to defend their title.
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