Despite the sense of recreation that was exuded by the French camp following their two consecutive victories over Australia and Peru that sealed their spot in the round of 16 and Didier Deschamps equaling his predecessor Raymond Domenech’s exceptional record 79-match reign at the helm, the former Juventus coach would not have been on board with his team’s disjointed display against Denmark in the first goalless draw in the 37 games of the ongoing World Cup.
Deschamps had fielded a second-string side against the Danes, making six changes from their previous encounter against Peru, resting marquee players such as skipper Hugo Lloris, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Pavard, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Blaise Matuidi for a host of supremely talented replacements.
38 games have been played at the 2018 World Cup
Denmark vs. France is the first and only match to finish 0-0 in that time; ending a record 37-game start to the tournament without a single goalless draw. pic.twitter.com/iVY2Aql2PM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 26, 2018
Les Bleus commenced the contest in highly laid-back fashion in the initial 10 minutes, distributing the ball from side to side with no avail. On the contrary, The Danish Dynamites hit the blocks running with Middlesbrough winger Martin Braithwaite causing problems for Presnel Kimpembe inside the area in the 3rd minute, only for the PSG defender to showcase his physicality to dominate the 27-year old forward. However, the tricky Wideman showed no signs of stopping, whizzing past Thomas Lemar to ask early questions of France’s backline with N’Golo Kante arriving with pace to block the incoming cross from the on-loan Bordeaux man.
The French were slightly under the cosh until Left-Back Lucas Hernandez played a swift one-two with Olivier Giroud in the 14th minute for the Chelsea striker to test Kasper Schmeichel’s safe pair of hands with a looping shot on goal. Raphael Varane’s wayward headed attempt from the following corner was a signal of France slowly, but surely asserting their ascendancy.
Monaco’s Djibril Sidibe began cementing this gradual dominance by linking play effectively with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele on the right-hand side, doubling down with the latter on Danish Left-Back Jens Stryger-Larsen by putting enticing crosses on a plate for the resolute Danish back-four to clear. The signs, however, were encouraging for Didier Deschamps’ men in blue who were in control of 67% possession of the ball till the 27th minute.
Football matches are not won or lost on paper or the amount of possession a side retains and a hypothesis to this theory was to arrive in the form of a Christian Eriksen strike from a counterattack on the left-hand side in the 27th minute, only for Lucas Hernandez’s heroic tackle to keep Age Hareide’s men at bay.
After incessant spells of sideways passing from the Euro 2000 champions and an unthreatening long-range effort from Ousmane Dembele for the remaining quarter of the second half, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud combined with each other with the latter having skied his shot after an underwhelming first-half performance.
Peter Schmeichel played for Denmark against France in 1998 World Cup.
Kasper Schmeichel played for Denmark against France in the 2018 World Cup.
— FUN88 (@fun88eng) June 26, 2018
A jarring statistic that emerged is that the pair engaged in only one completed pass between themselves and that too in the 43rd minute of the entirety of the first 45 which was a stark indicator of France’s shocking forays forward. With a mere single shot on target recorded from the French, the match was heading towards ending as a highly drab affair in a captivating tournament that had witnessed an average of 2.75 goals per match.
However, Les Bleus have scored 7 of their last 8 World Cup goals in the second-half which could indicate a monumental transformation on the horizon.
The French started the second-half in an encouraging manner, with the front three behind Giroud of Griezmann, Dembele and Lemar interchanging play effectively and posing a potential threat for the Danes.
Deschamps was not ready to rest on his laurels and brought on Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy in the 49th minute for his first appearance in the tournament for Lucas Hernandez to cater to Giroud’s abilities as a target man with his pinpoint crossing capabilities.
Despite Mendy hugging the touchline, delivering a bag of potent balls for the French attackers, Denmark began to gain a stronghold over the game and after a dicey headed clearance from Sidibe, Eriksen let loose a volley outside the box in the 59th minute that ultimately fizzled out to Mandanda’s relief.
France’s overarching dullness needed a fix and on came Lyon starman Nabil Fekir replacing a relatively quiet Antoine Griezmann in the 68th minute who could not live up to his usual talismanic standards.
The Liverpool target made an instant impact to proceedings, rifling a power-packed shot from outside the box. With his exquisite dribbling abilities and physical presence, the 24-year old was a joy to watch, trying to markedly increase the involvement of Dembele and Lemar.
The latter delivered a brilliant cross to Olivier Giroud in the 77th minute which was smartly saved by Schmeichel and it was the ex-Arsenal striker’s first header which is a testament to the rustiness on display by Les Bleus.
Kylian Mbappe’s introduction in the 81st minute could not particularly impact the direction of the match, barring a fantastic link-up between him and Fekir for the latter to test Schmeichel’s nerves late on and ultimately, the game ended all square at the Luzhniki stadium.
While the encounter between the two sides was far from a classic, to say the least, France and Denmark qualified from Group C with 7 and 5 points to the Round of 16 respectively to mark the bore draw and it is natural to expect better performances from them when the knockout rounds are off to a start.