Kylian Mbappe became the youngest Frenchman to score at the World Cup, Hugo Lloris kept a clean sheet on his 100th France cap and Didier Deschamps won in his 50th game in charge of France as Les Bleus put in a much-improved performance to book their spot in the Round of 16. The loss ended Peru’s World Cup campaign with the South American side now having lost both their opening group stage encounters.
At the Yekaterinburg Stadium dominated by Peruvian fans, the likes of Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud shone as a talented France side showed glimpses of their true potential in brief periods.
Following their uninspiring win against Australia, Deschamps made two changes to his side with the experienced duo of Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi starting in place of Ousmane Dembele and Corentin Tolisso in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Unlike in their 2-1 win against the Socceroos, France were more dynamic going forward with the inclusion of Giroud allowing Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe to play off him. The Chelsea forward was the focal point of most French attacks and jostled with the Peruvian defenders to create chances for his teammates.
After a slow start to the match where Peru dominated possession in the early stages of the match, France began asserting themselves with Griezmann twice combining with Giroud before the 15-minute mark. Giroud was a key figure in most French attacks as his hold-up play and aerial prowess brought in Griezmann and Mbappe into play with the duo creating trouble for the Peruvian defence off Giroud’s knockdowns and layoffs.
France deservedly took the lead in the 34th minute and Giroud was at the heart of it. Pogba won the ball in the Peruvian third and slipped in a perfectly-weighted ball to Giroud. The former Arsenal star’s shot took a huge deflection and looped over the keeper’s head into the path of Mbappe, who tapped the ball into the empty net.
With that goal, Mbappe became the youngest Frenchman to score at a World Cup or a European championship and he also became the first French player born after France’s 1998 World Cup triumph to score at the world’s biggest stage.
If Giroud’s powerful presence up top facilitated France’s chances, then the duo of Pogba and N’Golo Kante ran the show in midfield. While Kante, as usual, put in a solid shift breaking up Peruvian attacks, Pogba was disciplined on the ball and imperious going forward. The Manchester United midfielder had faced criticisms for his inconsistent performances in the last two seasons as well as his penchant for indulging in showboating last year. On Thursday, Pogba reined in his flashy side and took a more direct approach while building France’s attacks.
Meanwhile, the French defence had yet another easy outing with Peru restricted to only two really good chances to score. Not to forget, Pogba and Kante shielded the back four with elan. At the half-hour mark, Peru captain Raphael Guerrero did well to beat Umtiti to the ball in the box but his shot was saved well by Lloris. Peru’s only other chance came in the second half when Pedro Aquino struck the frame of the goal from distance with Lloris well and truly beaten.
Despite an improved performance, Deschamps still has some issues to address as France move into the knockout rounds. For all their fluid attacking moves, France could only score once past Pedro Gallese and had only four shots on target. Considering they have some of the best attacking talents in the world, one would expect Les Bleus to be more lethal in front of goal. Their failure to get a second goal could have backfired as Peru pushed forward in the final stages looking for an equaliser. Against a better team, France probably would have conceded.
Deschamps’ decision to deploy Matuidi on the left wing may have left many puzzled, given the fact that the Juventus man is essentially holding midfielder and neither has the pace or trickery to get past defenders. Sure, Dembele was poor in the first match and one can’t blame Deschamps for dropping him. But a cursory glance at the French bench throws up much better options for Deschamps to choose from than Matuidi. The likes of Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir and Florian Thauvin are better suited to play on the wings and his decision to play Matuidi is confusing, to say the least.
Despite having made it past the group stage, Didier Deschamps youthful France side hasn't maximised its full potential. However, if things are taken into perspective, the Les Bleus have managed to get their World Cup campaign off to a good start with two unconvincing but deserved wins. With most of the big teams struggling against smaller teams, France haven't been stretched to the limit yet. Which is more than what can be said of the performances of their fellow challengers Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany and Brazil.
Updated Date: Jun 22, 2018 12:20:29 IST