“We lacked pride and fierceness,” said Didier Deschamps, explaining France’s collapse against Belgium in the first half of the Nations League semi-final, this Thursday in Turin. When someone at the press conference immediately asked him to explain the reasons for the comeback from 2-0 to 2-3, the coach changed a transitive verb to another: “We show pride and fierceness.”
The one-dimensional speech – pure emotion – of the coach of the team with the greatest potential in the world, is as dark as it is transparent. The order of France is the defensive order. There is no training to attack other than that improvised by the individuals who form the vanguard. As Raynald Denoueix, who was coach of Nantes and Real Sociedad, says: “We confuse collective work with defensive work; and it is not always the same ”.
If Deschamps’ job consists of coordinating 11 players to avoid being scored against them, the rest of the task is up to Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappé, and, fundamentally, Karim Benzema. At 33 years old, the Madrid forward has gone from being marginalized for six years for legal reasons – while the trial that will determine his degree of involvement in the case of criminal extortion of the soccer player Mathieu Valbuena is settled – to becoming the main strategist of operations that lead to the opposing goal. Including the comeback against Belgium, which began with one of the most beautiful goals seen this season.
The team’s top scorer during the Eurocup, with four goals, Benzema deepened his influence on a night that exposed the growing breakdown of the defensive structure that characterized France in recent years. The change of scheme tried by Deschamps to cover the waterway, from 4-3-1-2 to 5-2-1-2, did not prevent Varane and Pogba from increasing the spaces and the feeling of fragility. [LADILLO]
Belgium exploits the gap
France conceded six goals in seven games at the 2018 World Cup, before being crowned champions in Moscow. The same goals that she conceded in the four games she played in the last European Championship before being eliminated by Switzerland and revealing an unexpected gap in the wall that represents Deschamps’ personal stamp. The gap is still there. Belgium scored two goals for him and could do more if he had made the many chances discovered by Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne.
Benzema prevented the shipwreck with the essential collaboration of Pogba and Griezmann, always regular, and with the dazzling addition of Kylian Mbappé. The nine PSG completed his 50th international match at the age of 22, a milestone of precociousness unknown in France. It was also the eighth meeting in which he coincided with Benzema and was the most prolific of all.
“Kylian and Karim have done an exceptional job up front, pushing, marking and making a difference. A fantastic match, ”said Griezmann.
Griezmann has played a unique role. The third captain is the bridge between the two forwards and the rest of a squad with whom they have an elusive relationship. Due to his antecedents in the Valbuena case, many have made Benzema void, not so Mbappé. The PSG player observes in the Madridista the kind of aristocrat of football that he wants to assimilate. He manifests it with his body language, in every training session and in every game. On Thursday in Turin, the only one who did not join the wheel of players who debated what to do in the second half, as they left the locker room, was Mbappé. Mbappé only came to argue with Benzema. And Benzema only moved to get closer to Pogba, to whom he suggested some ideas. The first, that he would always try to offer him a point of support outside the natural area of the nine. No nine in the world it is more influential outside the area.
What followed were Mbappé’s best moments with France since 2018. If in 120 minutes of knockout against Switzerland in the Eurocup he did not finish on goal and only did two good dribbles of eight attempts, against Belgium in 90 minutes he finished twice on goal – including the penalty – and he dribbled nine of 12 attempts, as well as stealing three balls and increasing his associations with Griezmann from 17 to 26.
After threatening to leave the national team last summer, his reaction was “fierce”, according to his coach. “I always made sure I was by his side,” Deschamps said after the game. “I know very well that the French team is stronger with Kylian than without him.”
Spain’s rival in Sunday’s final lifted the World Cup supported by Pogba and Kanté. Now it has been put in the hands of Benzema and Mbappé.
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