It is astonishing that France has managed to win the World Cup without their forwards, barring Kylian Mbappe, firing. Their most prolific goalscorer Antoine Griezmann scored three out of his four goals through penalties. Not that there is no skill involved in taking a penalty, it still boils down to probability, with luck and composure coming into play. And Griezmann didn’t show any nerves to give France the lead in the final against Croatia. Whether it was a penalty, to begin with, is another story. France has never lost when he was on the scoresheet, as was the case last night, too.
And then there is Olivier Giroud, a forward who has one attempt on goal to his credit in the seven matches that he has played. Giroud spent most of his time with his back towards goal, waiting. When the chances did come, he fired the ball into the stands. At times it felt Didier Deschamps only played Giroud to make things a little challenging for France.
The French attack did make it up with the 19-year-old Mbappe tearing past the Opposition defence, but it wasn’t a solo effort.
Behind the frontline was Paul Pogba, a midfielder who came into the tournament after a disappointing season with Manchester United. In the final leg of the season, Pogba had even lost his place to a 21-year-old who rose through the United reserves. He was even left out of the starting line-up in both the legs of the last 16 tie against Spanish side Sevilla in the Europa League. This World Cup proved to be his redemption. Ngolo Kante carried the bulk of the defensive duties, but Pogba ran the show from midfield. He saw openings in the Opposition that no one has. He bulldozed his way through to the final third, threatening to score. When the pace of the game dropped, Pogba was there to drag France by the scruff of the neck, kicking and screaming, against its will.
To tie this all up from behind was Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, two defenders who play for rival teams in the Spanish football league. They wouldn’t see eye-to-eye when Barcelona and Real Madrid face each other but in this France set up they were a tag team. When Varane struggled with set pieces, Umititi won the important headers. And when Umtiti panicked in the box, Varane was there to make those last-ditch tackles.
France hasn’t been the best team to watch in this tournament and yet they know how to win games. Their group stage matches were lacklustre, with one of them decided by a VAR decision and another ending in a draw. It took them time to find their stride but when Argentina came calling in the knockout stages, France was ready. The seven-goal thriller came at a time when there were questions over whether manager Didier Deschamps’ conservatism would work against teams with a superior blend of attack and defence.
Argentina did fit the billing when it came to attacking but was woeful in defending their goal, as Deschamps counterpart, Jorge Sampaoli, would painfully learn later. Sampaoli’s contract being terminated just hours after France was crowned champions last night seemed like the Argentina Football Association wanted to reassure him they were making the right decision. Be conservative but not timid, the underlying message read.