The noisiest bunch in Russia 2018 made a typically noisy exit, at the hands of Les Bleus who, though through to the Round of 16 struggled against a vibrant Peru side who certainly showed enough spunk to prove that they belonged.
Belonged to the highest stage. La Blanquirroja, appearing at football’s biggest extravaganza after a gap of 36 years, won over the neutrals and then some, as they appeared to throw caution to the wind in Ekaterinburg.
France looked bereft of ideas against a Peruvian team playing unlike an underdog, utilising their own attacking strengths and pace to keep Didier Deschamps’ team on the back-foot, making the 1998 winners look mediocre.
Deschamps is lost
Against Australia, France were indeed grateful for Paul Pogba to bail them out after an insipid display against the Socceroos almost cost them the win. The discussion veered towards the changes and the tweaks Deschamps would make.
Out went Ousmane Dembele and in came Olivier Giroud to lead the attack. The assumption was that France wanted a target man and the Chelsea forward was the best they had, so Antoine Griezmann took a step back and played in the whole.
The baffling decision was picking Blaise Matuidi on the left wing. Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin, Dembele himself can all play on the left but Deschamps chose Matuidi? Matuidi, really.
This felt like a coach trying to defend from the front and Peru didn’t let him forget it, Andre Carillo and Luis Advincula making life miserable for the 31-year-old, running rings around him.
Paul Pogba looked much better than the version of him that played against Australia, but the rest of the team seemed confused with the instructions. Griezmann, for the second game running, looked like he didn’t want to be there, mercifully hooked for Fekir with 10 minutes to go.
Deschamps might be a former winner himself, but his plans and methods have appeared fuzzy at best. France didn’t look like contenders, far from it, they played like underdogs against a Peru team, which for the lack of a good finisher, bossed them.
Peru’s decision-making costs them
Kylian Mbappe’s goal and France’s win was fortuitous, even though they did just enough to get themselves over the line. For Peru, to come back empty-handed was indicative of the decision-making in the final third, footballing intelligence trumping raw skill.
Multiple times did they look to attack Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, not by accident as the full-backs with six and seven caps to their name were the most inexperienced of the French lot.
Mbappe benefitted from Pavard’s defensive solidity but on the other wing, Advincula pushed forward, sending Matuidi and Hernandez scrambling. Carillo was possibly Peru’s biggest culprit on the night, breaking through multiple times, but his final ball was all over the place.
N’Golo Kante did well to hold his head above water, but against an opposition charging forward in a swarm, even he would have struggled had a couple more joined Guerrero and co in attack.
The Peru captain, earning a reprieve from a ban for testing positive for cocaine use, had the best opportunity, shaking off Umtiti, making a yard of space for himself, but shooting straight at Hugo Lloris, who was earning his 100th cap.
Pedro Aquino also rattled the bar from long range as there was no place for Deschamps’ team and their incompetency to hide.
Despite two wins out of two, France appear none the wiser as they struggle to breach opposition defences and remain vulnerable to pace at the back. The head coach appeared defiant after the game stating that a 5-0 win shouldn’t be expected at the World Cup, but he will know that anything less than a semi-final berth will be unacceptable with the superstars at his disposal.
Giroud posing more of a threat was the only positive to come out of the game, but Deschamps’ unpredictability means that Matuidi could again be employed on the left, rather questionably.
As for Peru, their brave journey ends in disappointment but they join Morocco on the honours list as teams who went out and played on merit, not reputation. It will be a long flight back to Lima, but the team in red and white can be happy with the football they showcased to the world.