It was a two-half World Cup tournament for France in 2018.
Les Bleus went to Russia as one of the favourites. Didier Deschamps had quite the squad which included players like Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe. This team was expected to score. A lot of them.
Deschamps named a fairly promising attacking trio for their opener against Australia, with Mbappe alongside Griezmann and Dembele. However, it didn’t click, and France needed a penalty and an own goal to secure a 2–1 win.
Their next match was against Peru and Deschamps made changes to the starting XI with Blaise Matuidi and Olivier Giroud replacing Corentin Tolisso and Dembele. He also moved them away from the 4-3-3 and into a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Giroud led the attack and was supported by Griezmann. Mbappe was deployed on the right and Matuidi, perhaps surprisingly, was used as a left-sided midfielder. Deschamps had previously decided to start four centre-backs in defence, with Lucas Hernandez playing at left-back and Benjamin Pavard being used at right-back. So, despite an embarrassment of riches in his squad, Deschamps’ preferred XI consisted of four centre-backs, three central midfielders, a traditional No.9, a versatile forward and the world’s best young attacker.
France won 1-0 thanks to Mbappe’s goal, although it wasn’t straight forward as Peru pushed for an equalizer in the second half. Deschamps was able to guide his team to the knockout stages. A weakened XI drew 0-0 against Denmark for the final group game.
So, one of the most exciting squads of the tournament scored a paltry three goals in three outings.
Argentina were their opponents in the round of 16. They had just escaped from Group D when Marcos Rojo scored an 86th-minute winner against Nigeria to send them into second place. France once again opened the scoring through the penalty spot, before Angel Di Maria leveled the game just before half-time.
And then the game burst into life with four goals in 20 minutes.
Argentina took the lead in the 48th minute before Pavard leveled the tournament. Mbappe then scored twice in four minutes to effectively end the tie-off. Sergio Aguero found the back of the net in added time but it was too late to mount a comeback.
In the span of 90 minutes, France doubled their goal tally for the tournament.
Deschamps’ side then scored twice against Uruguay to set up a semi-final clash with Belgium. In a game featuring Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Mbappe, Griezmann and Pogba, few would have imagined Samuel Umtiti scoring the winning goal, but that’s exactly what happened when France sent Roberto Martinez’s golden generation to the World Cup. Kicked out to access the cup. Final
The final in Moscow was another chaotic game, with an own goal and a penalty once again giving France a half-time lead. Pogba and Mbappe scored in a devastating six-minute spell to give Les Bleus a 4-1 lead with just 25 minutes remaining. Mario Mandzukic made amends for his earlier goal with a goal down the right but the unlikely finalists had given themselves too much to salvage the match.
France averaged one goal per game in the group but then averaged 2.75 goals per game in the knockout round. In an unorthodox way, Deschamps delivered.