It finally had to happen. After 13 days and 36 matches, the World Cup finally managed to produce its first goalless draw as France and Denmark warmed up for the Round of 16 with a drab encounter. Boos and whistles rang around the Luzhniki Stadium in the closing stages of the match as both sides chose to play for a point, robbing the spectators off a decent game.
With qualification to the last-16 confirmed after winning their first two matches, Didier Deschamps made six changes to his side as he rested key players Paul Pogba — who was also on a yellow card — Kylian Mbappe, Hugo Lloris, Samuel Umtiti and Benjamin Pavard.
Denmark were supposed to be the toughest opponents for France in the group stages, but both teams knew that a point would be enough for them to go. With Argentina up next for France, here are three things we learned from their group stage performances:
Griezmann, Dembele struggle
Like in Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann has got off to a slow start at the World Cup and has scored just once. Tasked with leading the attack in France’s opening game against Australia, the Atletico Madrid forward failed to live up to the task. With Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele on his flanks, Griezmann, the most-experienced of the trio, was shackled by the Socceroos defence as he struggled to impose himself in the match. It was only after the introduction of Olivier Giroud that France started to show some attacking vigour.
That led Deschamps to start with the Chelsea forward for the Peru and Denmark clashes with Griezmann playing off him, but to no avail. His movement off the ball and the timing of his runs have been poor and along with Dembele, he has been one of France's weakest players so far.
With Nabil Fekir showing glimpses of his potential after coming off the bench in all three matches, Griezmann's place in the side is threatened. His reputation and talent may still see him play against Argentina, but another lacklustre showing would cost him and France dearly. Griezmann can take inspiration from Euro 2016, where after a slow start, he led France to the final and pipped Cristiano Ronaldo to the Golden Ball and Golden Boot.
After being relegated to the bench against Peru following his dismal show against Australia, Dembele started against the Danes but continued where he left off against the Socceroos. The eye for a killer pass, dribbling runs and explosive pace, all of which made Barcelona cough up €105m for him last summer, has seemingly deserted the youngster. Dembele doesn't look to have fully recovered from the injury which cut short his debut season in Spain. Against Argentina, he will most likely start on the bench but the question would be if Deschamps would turn to him in time of need with the likes of Fekir and Thomas Lemar on the bench.
Coming into the tournament on the back of a below-par season with Manchester United, Pogba's form was one of the major concerns for France. However, in his two outings, the 25-year-old has shown his importance in the French side. Pogba has had a hand in all three goals that France have managed to score so far. Playing alongside N'Golo Kante in midfield has allowed Pogba to express himself going forward and he has turned out to be France's best player so far.
His absence was clearly seen on Tuesday as Les Bleus struggled to create chances. While the partnership of Kante and Steven N'Zonzi looked pretty solid in stopping Danish attacks, neither were as good as Pogba. The Manchester United player has also kept his showboating in check and has been far more disciplined in his defensive duties for Les Bleus than he was for his club. If he continues to build on his form and manages to avoid any further bookings, Pogba will be able to steer France to their first World Cup in 20 years.
French reserves fail to impress
With qualification guaranteed, Deschamps made six changes to his side giving the rest of his squad the chance to step up and make themselves counted. However, they failed to make their mark against Denmark. Thomas Lemar started in place of Mbappe on the wing but spent lot of time dropping back to midfield to create play in the absence of Pogba. N'Zonzi, though solid in breaking up play, rarely threatened going forward.
However, should anything happen to Kante, Deschamps has a reliable back-up in the Sevilla man. Presnel Kimpembe didn't have a great match with Danish striker Andreas Cornelius giving him a tough time. One feels for Nabil Fekir though. After coming on as a substitute in the first two games and performing well, he would have expected to start against Denmark. However, the Lyon man once again started on the bench and yet was the only French player who looked likely to score. On the back of his reserve side's showing on Tuesday, Deschamps is most likely to start with the same team that beat Peru against Argentina.
France haven't really been tested yet at the World Cup but neither have they managed to set the stage on fire despite boasting of some of the best players in the world. In all three matches, France barely had to move out of second gear and didn't show signs of trying to do so either. With a struggling Lionel Messi and Argentina to look forward to in the Round of 16, Les Bleus won't get a better opponent to truly get going in Russia.
Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 16:27:18 IST