If one of the themes of Euro 2016 was Didier Deschamps’ battle – and failure – to accommodate Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann in the same French team that really should have been seven shades of wonderful, France’s opening 69 minutes against Australia on Saturday demonstrated that two years was seemingly not enough time to solve that problem. Or simply that Deschamps is not the man for such an onerous task.
‘Laboured’ is the word that continually leapt to mind during a painfully slow match, when a team containing the dynamism of Pogba, Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele really should have been anything but. Who knew that throwing three talented forwards onto a football pitch would not result in wonderful free-flowing football? Well, everybody but Deschamps, it seems.
There is a reason that we all looked at the astonishing array of talent at Deschamps’ disposal and decided that Brazil would win the World Cup. And that reason is stood in the dug-out. He has constructed a young, exciting team without a single outfield player over the age of 30 – with only four survivors from that Euro 2016 final – but has seemingly failed to come up with a plan to make any kind of magic happen.
All Australia needed to do was stay narrow and make sensible, largely risk-free defensive decisions, and France were negated. The game largely drifted past and away from Dembele – and right now it’s difficult to see how he can ever justify that ridiculous fee – while Griezmann either dropped deep into Pogba territory or entirely failed to hold up the ball on the edge of the area. It was a frustrating, staccato performance from both him and France. He could not possibly protest at being hooked; everybody had been calling for the introduction of Olivier Giroud as early as the fourth minute.
You can see why Deschamps wants to phase out Giroud, who has been very much a Plan B for his clubs if not country over the last two years, but the truth is that his French side desperately needs a focal point. Pogba in particular desperately needs a focal point; he works well in tandem with Romelu Lukaku for Manchester United for a reason.
The France winner – when it came – was created by a one-two between Pogba and Giroud, with the latter pulling off a trick seemingly beyond Griezmann. The United midfielder delivered the ball into feet, ran beyond and then received the ball before lifting home via a deflection. That goal simply does not happen without Giroud on the field. Indeed, it is telling that Griezmann left the pitch with a pass completion rate the embarrassing side of 60% while Giroud did not misplace a single pass.
Now it is over to Deschamps, who has until Thursday to earn his corn by coming up with a different plan to beat Peru that involves something other than throwing exciting young players onto the pitch and hoping for the best. Playing the same starting XI really should not be an option. Sod Griezmann and his self-indulgence, this truly is Decision time.