Heading into the World Cup, France was pegged as a favorite to make a deep run through Russia. That hasn’t changed as Les Bleus cruised to seven points in a group stage that has seen several notable teams struggle to take care of business.
That’s one way to describe France’s run thus far: taking care of business. They have yet to go above and beyond and, despite their solid group stage results, they’ve not truly stood out as one of the competition’s elite.
A three-game group stage run was remarkably unimpressive for France, who never seemed to get out of first gear in a group that proved ripe for the taking. Wins over Peru and Australia to go with a tie with a tough Denmark team look good, but, breaking down the performance, we expect better from Les Bleus.
France’s first match, a 2-1 win over Australia, was a disjointed effort. Didier Deschamps opted to keep Olivier Giroud on the bench, a decision he would rectify with two straight starts to close the group stage. Without him, France struggled against an Australia team that finished in last place before Paul Pogba popped up with a late shot that turned into a winner.
Next up was Peru and a match where France was almost certainly the second best team on the field. Peru simply lacked a finishing touch, and was punished for it in France’s 1-0 win behind a first half Kylian Mbappe goal.
Finally, the Denmark game, which turned out to be a real snoozefest. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with tying a tough Danish team that clearly came out to protect a point. However, dating back to the U.S. Men’s National Team draw, the match was the fourth-consecutive match where France’s attack struggled to truly take form.
There are reasons for that. The attack, featuring Griezmann, Giroud and Mbappe, has combined for just two goals. Widely seen as a golden boot candidate, Griezmann, in particular, has been quiet and was taken out in the second half of the Denmark match after a lackluster start. Giroud has provided solid hold up play throughout, doing his job, while Mbappe has probably been the liveliest of the bunch. The attack has been fine, just fine, when it was supposed to be one of the tournament’s elite units.
Defensively and in the midfield, France has looked more than solid. Pogba will always have his detractors and he hasn’t quite played to a transcendent level just yet, but he did lead the way in the opening win. N’Golo Kante has played like a man possessed while the defense, led by Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, has been rock solid.
With the knockout rounds looking, France looks likely to face a number of big tests. Playing in a side of the bracket that already includes Spain, Uruguay and one of either Belgium or England, they face a murderer’s row of teams as they march towards the final. Performances like those in the group stage won’t cut it anymore, especially as games get tighter and chances evaporate.
For France to get going, the attack will have to get out of the sleepwalk state and start dominating. If that happens, France has the tools to go all the way. If not, France could be in line for another disappointing tournament ending.