For the second time, France are World Cup champions. And in the end, individual talent won out.
Don’t take that as a slight against manager Didier Deschamps. And I say this as someone who enjoys criticizing the French manager from time to time. In fact, he’s perfectly competent. What sometimes frustrates me (and many others) is how conservative he can be.
Olivier Giroud is a solid striker. What he does, he does well. But you could easily make the case that he shouldn’t be starting every World Cup match for France at this point in his career. Blaise Matuidi is a very reliable central midfielder, which is why it’s odd that Deschamps kept playing him on the left wing. Why is Paul Pogba, a world class creative presence in central midfield, asked to play so deep? How did Nabil Fekir and Ousmane Dembélé get such little playing time? We don’t know. But none of that matters. Deschamps and France are now two-time World Cup winners — he captained them back in 1998.
Two years ago, Deschamps saw his side make it to the final of Euro 2016. If not for an extra time goal from Portugal striker Eder, we’d be talking about them as winners of the most recent Euro AND World Cup. They should have plenty left in the tank when Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022 roll around, however. And unless he no longer feels like it (or results inexplicably drop off), there’s no reason Deschamps won’t be in charge.
Yes, he has a ridiculous amount of talent at his disposal. But let’s not act like this World Cup was kind to the giants of football. And let’s not act as if he’s the only manager who had stockpiles of talent in Russia.
Joachim Löw and Germany looked like they had no idea what they were doing as they crashed out of the group stage. Spain fired their manager 24 hours before the tournament then lost in a shootout to Russia in the Round of 16. Brazil couldn’t get past Belgium in the quarterfinals. And Belgium, a country that couldn’t take advantage of the ‘dark horse’ label that had been given to them for what felt like the previous 10 years, ended up finishing third.
In short, this World Cup wasn’t predictable in the slightest. The bigger nations had trouble throughout, but Deschamps and France navigated through all of it. They didn’t look convincing during the group stage, but topped theirs anyway. Argentina somehow found the back of the net three times against them in the Round of 16; it didn’t matter. France kept both Uruguay and Belgium off the board in the quarterfinal and semi-final, respectively.
Their World Cup opener came via a Mario Mandžukić own goal; their second came from a harsh but probably correct penalty decision. Then the individual talent struck. On two counter attacks six minutes apart, goals came from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé. The third started with Pogba’s sensational pass out of his own half and finished with his left foot. The fourth started with an excellent run by Lucas Hernández and finished with an understated solo effort of the foot of Mbappé.
From minute one in Russia all the way up until the final whistle today, Deschamps never deviated from his gameplan. We don’t have to like it; we can demand it look prettier, that it wasn’t flashy enough. It doesn’t matter. Criticize him all you’d like. That won’t change the fact that France are World Cup champions.