Wednesday 17 July 2019

Pressure rises for Deschamps and France

France coach Didier Deschamps. Photo: AP
France coach Didier Deschamps. Photo: AP

Jeremy Wilson

To gain an understanding of the scrutiny that Didier Deschamps is under as manager of France during this World Cup, it is perhaps sufficient simply to list some of those players he has left at home.

Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley Coman and Alexandre Lacazette would feature in most other squads in Russia but were all overlooked in favour of players who struggled badly to break down Australia.

Add in a qualifying campaign that ended with 18 goals in 10 games, as well as the frustration at being so stifled by Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, and you can see why criticism is growing.

It is not that Deschamps has selected bad players in their place, just that France have, theoretically, the deepest array of attacking options in the world and yet the key to unlocking these creative riches has remained maddeningly elusive.

As the French football expert Julien Laurens commented after Saturday's game: "France did win against Australia, but Deschamps lost. The pressure on him is greater than ever." Deschamps extended his contract with France until 2020 only last year but, after six years already in charge of such a talented squad, the debate surrounding one of the nation's great football figures is raging.

The sudden availability this summer of countrymen Zinedine Zidane and Arsene Wenger will hardly comfort him if France do not establish some momentum in Russia and today's match against Peru is already being viewed as a potentially pivotal test. Victory would probably guarantee their path to at least the last 16 but defeat would throw Group C wide open. Upon arriving yesterday in Ekaterinburg, there was no particular attempt by either Deschamps or captain Hugo Lloris to sugar-coat their fortuitous win against Australia.

"We have seen other teams break their teeth in the first match," said Lloris. "We got the three points, even if our way of playing needs to improve. Nothing can replace aggression, this has been lacking for the whole match. We must raise our quality, physically, psychologically and technically."

In naming such a youthful squad, Deschamps argued for "less experience, more ambition".

"I trust those players," he said. "It is not going to be a handicap. On the contrary. I knew it was a young team; 14 players do not know what a World Cup is. But, of course, in four years' time, they will then have the experience." The biggest question is whether he will be the manager who reaps that reward.

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