It is easy to say ‘I said yes’, but: I said yes. France beat Belgium in the World Cup semi-finals. Just under (1-0), with some refereeing luck (free kick not given at the edge of the penalty area), but highly deserved (whether the better playing system). In all the typing rounds I have tipped the French as world champions. And there are several good reasons for this.
I have to admit one thing: two of the best reasons came up during the tournament, but I generously book that as prophetic foresight. The two factors are called Team Spirit (and is not football) and Benjamin Pavard.
What does it say so ugly? But in turn. Unlike the DFB selection, France’s national team has played a not-so-perfect qualification. Seven wins, two draws, one defeat – ten wins for Germany are different. However, the decisive performance for their favourite status was shown by the French at the end of 2017, of all places(!) against the world champion.
2-2 in Cologne in November, and France played Germany in a high-class game in a dizzy ingenuous manner. Both sides showed weaknesses, but above all: technically and tactically high-quality football with the same game admission – to want to score a goal.
In Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembelé and kylian Mbappé, France have outstanding offensive powers. What makes them so dangerous is their unpredictability. France don’t need ball possession football for a goal. The decisive factor in the Game of the French is control, the strategic game.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals showed how outstanding coach Didier Deschamps has set Les Bleus. Once in the lead, it is hardly possible to shake up the saddle-proof defensive of the French. Because every player knows which balls to fight for, which paths have to be taken. And which ones don’t.
Ball losses are compensated by the whole team, Mbappé, Grioud, Pogba, all working backwards and closing the rooms. Uruguay didn’t get a real chance in the quarter-finals. Belgium had individual tries through Eden Hazard, whose shot was parried by Hugo Lloris in goal. Shot trap is sometimes called that.
The French know how to avoid undernumbered situations in their own half. Also, by not srunning balls bluntly, but the orientation to one’s own penalty area is a priority. In the middle, the outstanding interior defence clarifies Umtiti and Varanne, behind it Lloris. The outside defenders have also won a dream World Cup so far. Even if Benjamin Pavard had obviously struggled defensively against Eden Hazard (who wouldn’t have it?), the trained interior defender has given the game a new dimension in the build-up and attack. The 22-year-old has played 11 international matches so far, seven from the start – five of them at the World Cup. Opposite Lucas Hernandez does his job unexcitedly solid. And in defensive midfield, N’Golo Kante teaches all opponents to fear with his biting but fair playing style and outstanding flair for ball-capture.
France did not hit Denmark, but there was an obvious non-aggression pact. Otherwise the goals fell both from the game, as well as from the counter, as well as by standards. Belgium tried with playful dominance and remained mercilessly inefficient. In the end, it was again a standard situation at this World Cup that brought the decision.
This united team performance, to which the stars submit, has hardly anyone so trusted by the French, who are not known as a harmonious team. But now the team spirit is evident with every substitution, every cheer and every setback. Deschamps talks a lot with his players, the reserve is also included.
This kind of fighting spirit and tactical discipline is very reminiscent of another team: Germany, World Champion 2014. The collective was stronger than the individual experts, but the individual achievements often brought the decisions. The offense rused to the back, the inside defense kept everything tight. No one danced out of line, everyone knew what to do. And everyone had fun with it.
In doing so, France is not only a little painful lynotated to the dethroned world champion, as the virtues of four years ago are still the key to success. They simply show that, regardless of the opponent, it is hardly possible to beat them with this self-confidence and self-image. It is the crucial difference from the 2016 World Cup, where the Portuguese showed this collective achievement – and France failed in beauty.
Whether it’s Croatia lacking flexibility (like Argentina in 2014), or England lacking international maturity (like Germany in 2010), the world champion is already certain. I said yes.