France’s inefficient Euros exit is down to one dramatic shortfall

Les Bleus achieved their minimum aim but look capable of so much more than what they’ve delivered on-pitch

Richard Jolly
in Germany
Wednesday 10 July 2024 09:02
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‘Mystic meerkats’ predict result of England's Euro 2024 clash against Netherlands

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Much like Euro 2020, it ended with Kylian Mbappe in front of goal, with the kind of chance he would usually take. Three years ago, it was a penalty, saved by Yann Sommer. In Euro 2024, it was a shot, in Mbappe’s favoured inside-left channel, following the kind of electric surge he has mustered too rarely this tournament. But he cleared the crossbar and, a few minutes later, Spain were in the final.

France’s tournament has revolved around Mbappe; perhaps they all do. But it came down also to Lamine Yamal’s left foot, to a moment of individual flair that France football did not muster in their six games, and Kevin Danso’s shoulder. Mbappe’s collision with it meant he spent much of Euro 2024 in a mask, with a broken nose and broken dreams to show for a first competition as captain.

He broke his duck in the European Championship, but only from the penalty spot. Unlike the World Cup, this has not been his stage. Even without the mask he cast aside, Mbappe could not don his superhero cape. He transformed the World Cup final with a hat-trick. He could not conjure one goal to save France’s Euros. “Kylian did not play as well as he normally did,” said manager Didier Deschamps.

And yet to focus on Mbappe to the exclusion of anyone else is to over-simplify, to reduce France to a one-man team when their pre-tournament status as favourites was justified by the depth and range of talent at Deschamps’ disposal. As they depart with a lone goal by a Frenchman in open play, Randal Kolo Muani’s semi-final header against Spain, it reflects poorly on each of the attackers.

Kolo Muani had two moments that brought goals – one debited to Jan Vertonghen – and Ousmane Dembele a fine cameo against Portugal. But he was otherwise underwhelming, Marcus Thuram worse, Olivier Giroud underused in a tournament where he got just 56 minutes of football.

It was fewer than Deschamps envisaged and an underwhelming end to the international career of France’s record scorer. As he searched in vain for chemistry and a combination, Deschamps fielded six different front threes in as many matches. “Our offensive inefficiency stems from shots that are not on target,” he lamented. France scored one goal from a non-penalty xG of 9.44 across the tournament; take some of those chances and they may not have been deemed so dull.

At the heart of every shortcoming was the man who was central to their success in the last two World Cups: Antoine Griezmann, often the tournament talisman, now strangely ineffective. He was midfielder, No 10, right winger and, when dropped for the defeat to Spain football, substitute. If one era ends with Giroud, the last survivor of Deschamps’ first game in charge, perhaps the Griezmann years are nearing their conclusion.

Mbappe scored only once, a penalty
Mbappe scored only once, a penalty (Getty Images)
Griezmann failed to deliver for France
Griezmann failed to deliver for France (Getty Images)

But he had such an importance in part because, for all France’s many other attributes, they lack creativity: they have counter-attacking pace in abundance, but not the players to pick a pass. In that respect, they have never replaced Paul Pogba.

Meanwhile, Deschamps seems to have an endless production line of defensive midfielders: heart-warming as N’Golo Kante’s dramatic return was, perhaps it overcomplicated matters. Maybe Eduardo Camavinga, excellent against Portugal, should not have been benched against Spain. The way the emphasis in France’s team shifted to the defensive and the defensively-minded was an indication of the evolution of the squad, but it left them without sufficient balance. That Spain could win Euro 2024 with more width in attack, more goals from midfield and more incisive passing illustrates what France have lacked.

Maybe they only needed to retain a lead against Poland, which would have sent them into the weaker half of the draw, instead of allowing Austria to top the group. Or they could lament the loss of another lead: to Spain, sending them crashing out.

Deschamps has no intention of departing
Deschamps has no intention of departing (Getty Images)

“I am not going to pass on the responsibility to another. I am in charge,” said Deschamps. “I am responsible.” He is likely to remain responsible, with two years left on his contract, with the semi-finals the stated target from the French Football Federation. A question if, after a dozen years, his time will be up, was greeted with short shrift. “Please try to respect people who have responsibility,” he said. “You know my situation very well and what my president thinks. Maybe you shouldn’t have asked this question.”

The great constant of international management sought to shield his charges. “My players gave their all but they did not all play at 100 percent of their capabilities for this Euros,” he said. Those who did deliver included Mike Maignan, William Saliba, Jules Kounde and Theo Hernandez.

Yet they are a goalkeeper, a centre-back, two full-backs. None is a striker, a winger, a creative midfielder. And so France leave Euro 2024 with fewer goals than Georgia, with fewer by their own players than Mbappe scored in the last World Cup final alone. His was the masked face of France’s tournament. They masked their own talent with their inability to score.

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