So far, the defending world champions have reached the grand expectations that usually come with being the team to beat in the World Cup. But this has not been without its challenges…
Before the squads were even selected by manager Didier Deschamps, he knew they would be without vital cogs of the French machine that won the World Cup four years ago in Russia. Among the players unavailable for selection were midfield stalwarts Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante as well as first choice centre defender Presnel Kimpembe.
Even after the squad was selected the injury problems did not stop there. First, in-form RB Leipzig attacking midfielder Christopher Nkunku was injured during the first week of training and was ruled out for the tournament. Then perhaps even worse, Karim Benzema was ruled out for the tournament and became the first Ballon D’Or holder to miss a World Cup in the 21st century. Deschamps decided against replacing them and left the side lacking firepower in attack.
France vs Australia
France began their tournament slowly. After conceding just nine minutes into the opening game, many viewers began to wonder if the squad was genuinely good enough to compete in the World Cup. However, talisman Kylian Mbappe and second top goal scorer of all time for France, Olivier Giroud sparked an impressive comeback that demonstrated the mental fortitude of the team as they ended the game 4-1 winners.
France vs Denmark
Four days later, France faced potentially the toughest challenge in their group, Denmark. Denmark had shown their defensive ability in the first game against Tunisia as well as reaching the reputation they had inherited through reaching the semi-finals of the Euro’s last summer. Both teams appeared to try more to avoid defeat than go for the win throughout most of the game as the game. But Mbappe demonstrated his world-class talent as he scored twice in the second half to carry Les Bleus to a 2-1 win.
France vs Tunisia
Other results in the last round of fixture guaranteed France a spot in the Round of 16. This also allowed Deschamps to make nine changes and change formation from the team that beat Denmark including dropping the top scorer of the tournament at that point, Mbappe. Despite France controlling most of the game, they lacked the cutting edge to score even after Mbappe was introduced in the 70th minute. France lost the game 1-0 but other results left France top of the group, but Tunisia did not qualify despite their surprise victory.
France vs Poland
The surprising defeat to Tunisia caused Deschamps to revert to the team that had beaten Denmark to immense success. France stormed past Poland with Giroud opening the scoring while becoming the all-time leading scorer for France. Mbappe’s sublime second half brace further took the game away from Poland, who scored a consolation penalty at the second attempt in the 99th minute.
Overall, France have highlighted their ability to score and create chances but at the same time they have demonstrated a few defensive frailties to teams that do not have the same attacking power as England.
England have 12 goals in 3 games and with defenders that could neutralize France’s attacking players could make it difficult for France. The best way England can win this game is by stopping Mbappe as without his goals and creativity it may reduce the France’s threat as best shown by Tunisia and Denmark’s first 45 minutes.