Growing into a team capable of winning
St Petersburg – For France, the progression has been clear. After a sluggish group stage, Didier Deschamps’ team have worked through the gears at the World Cup, culminating in an impressive 1-0 win over Belgium Tuesday to reach the World Cup final, where they will now be favourites to win the trophy for a second time.
Samuel Umtiti’s second-half header was the only difference between the two sides on paper, but France probed dangerously in attack while limiting Belgium’s chances to equalize to virtually nothing.
From when they began in Group C against Australia with a shaky 2-1 win thanks to a penalty and Aziz Behich’s own goal, France now appear a different team.
As Deschamps points out, they have matured during the tournament, as is only natural for a side with an average age of 26, featuring several players who had never experienced a World Cup.
“My idea is that everything can be improved,” Deschamps told reporters. “I have a young team. There are 14 players who have discovered what a World Cup is. Their progression path is huge.
“I’m very proud of them, their mentality too, because, with our state of mind, we can climb mountains and that is what we have done so far.”
Across the team, players have found their feet. Kylian Mbappe scored in the 1-0 win over Peru in the group stage but burst into life against Argentina in the last 16.
The 19-year-old’s sensational performance was one of the highlights of the tournament and he was again brilliant against Belgium.
Although his more experienced strike partner Olivier Giroud denied Mbappe the assist of the tournament with slack finishing, and Benjamin Pavard shot at Thibaut Courtois after the Paris Saint-Germain forward played him in, few watching will be left with any doubt over his quality.
The World Cup started with talk of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fighting it out for their first World Cup win in potentially their last attempts, but it could end with Mbappe establishing himself as one of the best players in the world at a tender age.
France have established themselves similarly, with the Euro 2016 champions dominating Uruguay in the quarter-final before taking their biggest scalp yet against Belgium.
Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante has excelled throughout, but his midfield partner Paul Pogba has improved game by game, putting in a high-level performance as France shut Belgium down in midfield.
“Paul, I must say very honestly – he has grown in the team,” said Deschamps. “He is very expressive player. He knows what he has to do and what he does on the pitch can only increase his own legitimacy inside the group.”
Hugo Lloris has enjoyed a phenomenal World Cup, arriving at the tournament with doubts around him after a shaky season with Tottenham Hotspur, but his magnificent save from Toby Alderweireld was a highlight against Belgium.
“The older players control the team, the younger players bring a bit of craziness,” added Deschamps. “Some are young but they are already very mature. When they have the opportunity to grab something they have to grab it.”
In 1998 France won the World Cup for the first time and Deschamps was a part of the team, but he knows that telling his side about that triumph is not the way to inspire them.
“You have to live in your time and [I] must never mention my own history,” said Deschamps. “They know it. Some of them were not born, but they saw pictures and that’s it. It belongs to a lot of French people who lived through it, but not to the young generation.
“I am here with them today to write a new page in history, a beautiful page. What we did 20 years ago will stay there in history, nobody is going to remove it, but we must live within our time, not in the rear-view mirror.”
With France reaching new heights, they will be favourites to create that new story against either England or Croatia in Sunday’s Moscow final. – DPA