Didier Deschamps deserves credit despite France losing World Cup final | World Cup 2022

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Eric Cantona once dismissed Didier Deschamps as a “water carrier”. Michel Platini, meanwhile, suggested he was so lucky he must have been “blessed by holy water at birth”. After a chaotic buildup to the World Cup, an abject opening 80 minutes to the final and a heavy reliance on Kylian Mbappé’s brilliance to drag France to a barely deserved penalty shootout, it might be easy to dismiss Deschamps and his team in similar terms. However, the tournament only proved that France are a match for any side and their manager understands international football as well as anyone.

The final did expose structural weaknesses in this version of Deschamps’ team, which was heavily affected by injuries that had been clear to see throughout the tournament but sidestepped in previous games. These issues will need to be worked on, as – much like England’s considered control and Morocco’s ferocity in previous rounds – Argentina’s early intensity meant France were unable to impose their gameplan.

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Adrien Rabiot’s fluid midfield role and inability to match Paul Pogba for creativity or N’Golo Kanté for drive also contributed to France playing much of the knockout rounds without the ball. On top of that, Antoine Griezmann’s role as a false 10 offers vision but little dynamism and often left the inexperienced Aurélien Tchouaméni isolated and outgunned. France’s thrown-together back four were erratic positionally and in possession, and endured a wayward first half. And Olivier Giroud’s injury and a clearly overawed Ousmane Dembélé did not help either.

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France are a dogged team who have been designed to be difficult to beat, so their startlingly limp performance in the opening hour on Sunday also suggests outside influences affected their display and mentality. Deschamps explained afterwards that France didn’t turn up for “different reasons”. He said: “We’ve had to face difficult things in the last four days. Illness and then things collectively too,” before adding, somewhat cryptically: “We didn’t have all our strength for different reasons. I won’t go into explanations.” Flu clearly affected the team’s vigour, with Raphaël Varane’s exhausted exit during extra time summing up the squad’s energy levels.

Nevertheless, although France were emotionally absent for much of the final, this also feels like a missed opportunity. Despite their early boldness and passion, vividly underlined by Ángel Di María breaking down after he opened the scoring and the players’ almost religious outpouring of jubilation following Gonzalo Montiel’s winning penalty, this Argentina squad are unusually workmanlike for World Cup finalists, let alone winners. Regardless of injuries, France probably boasted the stronger XI.

France also created various openings that might have won the game at 2-2 and 3-3, while enjoying the momentum for most of the final 40 minutes. Although just a few France players – Mbappé, substitute Randal Kolo Muani and maybe defender Dayot Upamecano aside – can claim to have met expectations in the final, Deschamps will feel his team were still productive enough to win the game. Instead, much of the blame for the defeat has been apportioned to the Polish referee, Szymon Marciniak, who L’Équipe awarded 2/10, while suggesting the VAR official, Tomasz Kwiatkowski, “was not going to question his compatriot in front of the whole world”.

Despite their bizarre display in the early part of the final and crushing defeat on penalties at the end, France undoubtedly exceeded expectations in the tournament. Several key players withdrew before the tournament, including a world-class trio of Pogba, Kanté and the Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema. Deschamps had to revert, somewhat desperately, to a four-man defence, having fielded a 3-4-1-2 for the last 18 months. The team had been reliant on structure in the past and had no time to drill the new setup, so Deschamps’ decision was a sizeable gamble but it largely paid off.

Reports of Pogba’s alleged attempt to “curse” Mbappé via a witch-doctor might have led to division within the group too and, although France were not written off at home, the combination of infighting, injuries and haphazard preparations brought to mind their humiliating early exits in 2002 and 2010. Deschamps, though, found a way to bring his squad together both socially and tactically.

Kylian Mbappé with the Golden Boot
Kylian Mbappé’s hat-trick in the final earned him the Golden Boot. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Deschamps’ deft handling of his squad and astute understanding of how international football is played were apparent as France made their way through the tournament, producing a series of neatly engineered if unexciting wins and then beating England and Morocco to reach the final. The wild celebrations in the dressing room showed the positive atmosphere he had created in the squad. Much of the attention will now centre on Golden Boot winner Mbappé and how he dragged France back into the final but, in truth, it’s Deschamps who emerges from the tournament with his reputation most enhanced. Given the challenges he faced, coming within the width of Emiliano Martínez’s ankle of winning a second successive World Cup is an astonishing achievement.

However, despite previous reports that Deschamps would extend his contract to Euro 2024, now only 18 months away, the 54-year-old said he didn’t want to talk about his future in the aftermath of the defeat. The coach told French television that he would “see what happens” before meeting with the French Football Federation president, Noël Le Graët, in the new year. Although, at one stage, he might have been an average tournament away from Zinedine Zidane taking his job, most observers, including the French president, Emmanuel Macron, feel Deschamps should now remain.

Despite the French media’s begrudging respect for Deschamps historically, that should be a boon to the squad and the country. There’s no guarantee that Zidane, a not-too-dissimilar coach to Deschamps, would be an upgrade for this squad at international level. Deschamps has also proven he can help develop France’s considerable young talent, much of which will soon enter its prime – 12 of those used in the final are 25 or under. A record of three finals (all three of which France will feel they should have won) in five major tournaments under Deschamps, plus an impressive Nations League win, is quite the record.

Le Graët said at full time that the competition was “still a victory for French football” and that France will leave Qatar with renewed confidence on many fronts. A young, unprepared team overcame challenges that would have easily derailed previous groups thanks to a proven, high-quality coach who will still privately feel he did enough to win a second world title. Like their coach, not only can this France team “carry water” with the best, they are indeed undeniably blessed.

This is an article from Get French Football News
Follow Adam White and GFFN on Twitter

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