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Winning all that matters at Euro 2024 for Mbappe’s minimalist France

By AFP - Jul 08,2024 - Last updated at Jul 08,2024

France’s forward #10 Kylian Mbappe challenges Portugal’s defender #04 Ruben Dias (left) and Portugal’s forward #26 Francisco Conceicao during the UEFA Euro 2024 quarter-final football match between Portugal and France at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg on Friday (AFP photo)

HAMBURG — Three goals scored in five games, one a penalty and two own goals, and yet Kylian Mbappe’s France is into the semifinals of yet another major tournament as Spain await at Euro 2024.

It is remarkable that any team could get to the last four of such a competition despite struggling so much in front of goal, but all the more so when that team is captained by arguably the best forward in the world.

Mbappe is surrounded by other world-class attackers, but his penalty in a group-stage draw with Poland is the only goal scored by a French player at this European Championship.

Having edged Belgium in the last 16 thanks to a late own goal, France came through a nail-biting quarter-final against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on Friday, triumphing 5-3 on penalties after a goalless two hours of football in Hamburg.

“I have said it before lots of competitions. The most important thing is that we win,” Mbappe told reporters.

“People thought it was a wisecrack. I have only scored one goal but we are in the semifinals and I am really happy.”

In charge for 12 years and at his sixth major tournament, France coach Didier Deschamps has regularly been criticised for not playing thrilling football with an extraordinary collection of players.

But he has always got results, with France winning the 2018 World Cup and 2021 UEFA Nations League under his watch.

They lost the 2022 World Cup final on penalties to Argentina and the Euro 2016 final in extra time against Portugal.

Now they are in a fourth semifinal in the last five major tournaments despite their paltry record in front of goal.

Greece may be remembered as perhaps the least spectacular side to win such a competition, but its status as outsiders at Euro 2004 justified a more cautious approach, and they still scored seven goals in six matches.

Including their 0-0 friendly draw against Canada just before the Euros, France has gone six games without one of its players finding the net in open play, a first in 60 years according to statisticians Opta.

That record has not prevented them advancing to Tuesday’s semi-final against a Spain side which has found the net 11 times in Germany.

“I don’t want to lie. In the dressing room we were not thinking much about the fact we didn’t score,” Mbappe insisted on Friday night.

France’s captain is at the heart of the issue though.


Resisting against everything 


The new Real Madrid signing is having a poor tournament, struggling to adapt to playing while wearing a protective face mask after breaking his nose in France’s opening game against Austria.

Sports daily L’Equipe gave him two out of 10 for his performance against Portugal, when he watched the penalty shoot-out from the bench after being substituted midway through extra time.

The form of Antoine Griezmann is an ongoing problem too -- he has been shifted around various different positions and has now scored just twice in his last 33 international appearances.

“Obviously for different reasons Antoine and Kylian are not on their best form,” conceded Deschamps.

“The two of them are supposed to make us more clinical than we are. But we still have a collective strength. Others have stepped up and done very, very well.”

Their defensive strength is admirable, with France having let in just one goal so far, and that a penalty by Robert Lewandowski against Poland.

Maignan is an exceptional goalkeeper, and in front of him the back four of Jules Kounde, Dayot Upamecano, William Saliba and Theo Hernandez have got better with every game.

“They resist against everything,” was the headline in Saturday’s edition of L’Equipe.

The problem is that relying so heavily on a good defence is fine when you’re winning, but lose and there is really not much left.

“We have been lucky enough to be solid ever since the competition began, to have defended well all together,” said Saliba, of Arsenal.

“We have been saying to ourselves that if we keep a clean sheet we have a 90 per cent chance of winning the match. All we need to do now is score goals, and I am sure that will come.”

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