When you gaze into the electric blue eyes of Antoine Griezmann, you realise they that they don’t produce the same steely effect as a certain number 7 from Portugal, or even the magical aura of a diminutive Argentinian. His are a playful carefree kind, which know to play the beautiful game in its purest form. When he stood over the penalty in the second half, few doubted him and he expelled it with nonchalance, something he is synonymous with. There were none of the usual celebrations this time though, just a silent stare into the crowd. A silent reminder that he knew what he was doing, even if it was making a video about nothing. It would be the first goal scored after a decision reversal by the newest villain in the game, VAR. It wasn’t the only goal in the game, but it pretty much set the tone for the game, although late.
It was supposed to be a French party, a tranquil walk along the green park of the Kazan Arena, but the Socceroos showed they were not there to fill up the numbers. The French party disrupted, the Socceroos quickly stamped their mark on the game, physically imposing themselves over the French players. This resulted in a stop start game in the first half an hour, with the Australian midfield overloaded 4 v 3. But for the tactful passing from Pogba and intelligent positioning from Kante, the French team would have crumbled. Pogba, although adept at going forward, could take a leaf or two from Mooy’s book. The Australian, when playing for Huddersfield is given a free role to create and hurt the opposition, but when asked to do a defensive job against the favourites, excelled at it.
The first half went through without too much to miss, the young French forwards trying to be a little too cute. Way too many hopeful and fanciful passes meant the magicians couldn’t conjure much up. The most important piece of French play came in the form of their captain Lloris, playing his 99th game, saving the only meaningful attempt by Australia. The dead ball was put into a good area by Mooy which was headed back to his own goal by Tolisso and required Lloris to be elastic, which he was.
After the break, there could not have been more of a difference in the mentalities of the two teams. The Australians continued to hustle, while the French, buoyed by an acute change in tactic, were looking quite conservative. The passing into the final third was crisp and cultured. They created the chance leading up to the penalty and Antoine did the rest. Post the goal, the Australian defence pushed up 10-15 yards to attack, leaving space behind. Their work did pay off though. At the 62nd minute mark, from a free-kick, Umtiti put his hand out, Maradona-like to handle the ball away, when there was no apparent danger behind him. Such a mistake in the World Cup Finals always costs a lot and it did here. Glacially cool, Mile Jedinak, the Aussie captain sent Lloris the other way to send the Canary Yellow jerseys in the crowd into delirium.
With the equaliser registered, the Aussies wanted to stay in the game, and thus reverted to their defensive 4-2-3-1 shape. The French, shocked, didn’t know how to react and held the ball, looking at some inspiration from somewhere. They found none, so Deschamps made two of the three allowed subs in the form of Giroud and Fekir. The two were direct positional replacements for Dembele and Griezmann. It was clear that France were putting in Plan B into force, with even the less attacking of the two Full-Backs, Pavard getting forward to link up with the Lyon midfielder. Tolisso was the next victim, just after seeing yellow for a clearly intentional foul from behind when Australia had a break on, 4 v 3. He was replaced with Matuidi, the aging matador. He composed the midfield and filled the voids the inexperienced Tolisso had failed to notice. The Aussie attack was significantly smothered.
The moment that turned the game in France’s favour came in the 81st minute. Pogba, receiving the ball about 35 yards from the goal, passed it to Giroud, who held it up expertly and passed it right back to him. Pogba, taking a touch to steady himself, put his foot through it, just for the ball to loop over the hapless Matty Ryan, who had been a pillar of strength all game. He saw the ball soar over him in an arc to bounce off the crossbar and into the goal. There were doubts over who would be credited with that goal, but Pogba will take it. As will France. They got what they came for, even if it was later than they expected.
Match Report by S. Parasuraman
Feature Image via Sky Sports
Griezmann Image via Goal
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