Kylian Mbappé leads French frenzy after Didier Deschamps rolls the dice | WC 2022

IIt was never part of the plan for Didier Deschamps to reveal a gambler’s instinct. France’s manager is reading from a pragmatic playbook. As he put the finishing touches to his tactical preparations for this contest, Deschamps could never have imagined that Kylian Mbappé would have missed a penalty with two minutes remaining in extra time, setting himself up to save France for the second time and become the first the player to score a hat-trick in a men’s World Cup final since Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966.

Everything had gotten out of hand, Argentina’s emotions trumping French cool. Caution? Organization? Are you waiting for a moment to strike during the break? Forget it. Lionel Messi had given Argentina a 3-2 lead and France needed something extraordinary.

Of course, fairytale endings are often torn up when Mbappé grabs the script. Even Messi could sense the narrative slipping away as Mbappé touched down towards the end of normal time, a two-goal lead gone, the story changing from Argentine fantasy to France establishing themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has reported on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is brought together on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football website for those who want to delve deeper into the issues off the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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How to understand it all? France, flu-stricken and out of shape, were barely with us for the first 79 minutes. They lost it once, came back from 2-0 down, lost it again and equalized again when the astonishing Mbappé converted his second penalty.

In the end, Mbappé had the golden boot. Not the trophy, though. It belonged to Messi, which felt right. Argentina was the more complete team. France did not deserve to escape and the harsh reality is that Deschamps must reflect on the meek way his team started. It ended in a penalty shootout; indeed, but France lost it during a miserable opening.

The deposed world champions were outclassed during the first round. It had been a suffocation, a collective and individual capitulation, a tactical and psychological failure. If ever there was a moment for Deschamps to roll the dice, this was it.

Drastic action was needed after Ángel Di María made it 2-0 to Argentina. After watching his team arrive late to every loose ball and play as if they’d rather be somewhere else in the first 41 minutes, something snapped inside Deschamps.

The desperation for the double change followed. In truth, Deschamps could have replaced many of them. As it was, two numbers went up on the fourth official’s board: Ousmane Dembélé and Olivier Giroud. They were the autumn boys who had to endure the humiliation of a premature exit from the biggest game of all.

It was hard to argue. Giroud angrily kicked a bottle as he reached the bench, but he hadn’t landed any punches on Argentina’s centre-backs. As for Dembélé, he had started the night by letting a pass run out for a throw-in. After doing so well to force his way back into the French team, the Barcelona winger froze. Much had been made of Dembélé’s improved work ethic before the match. But he is no defender, as he demonstrated when he lost Di María, naively tripping the winger and giving Messi the chance to open the scoring from the spot.

That sense of panic was unlike France. They didn’t muster a shot in the first half. Antoine Griezmann and the hapless Theo Hernandez conceded possession in dangerous positions within the first 10 minutes. Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot did not come close to Messi in midfield.

Kylian Mbappé with Marcus Thuram
Kylian Mbappé with Marcus Thuram after completing his hat-trick. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Meanwhile, Mbappé hurt his own team instead of Argentina. The problem is that the 23-year-old’s talent gives him permission to cheat in a tactical sense. Just like Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, Mbappé holds a high position when France lose the ball and waits for counter opportunities. But the problems with that approach were evident when the forward allowed Achraf Hakimi to advance from right-back during France’s semi-final against Morocco. Order was only restored when Deschamps took Giroud off for Marcus Thuram, who moved to the left, and put Mbappé in the middle.

Deschamps will wonder if it should have been the play from the start. Mbappé never tracked back down the left to help Hernandez with Messi, and was more dangerous when Thuram came on. Randal Kolo Muani, who would win the penalty for Mbappé’s first goal, offered more drive than Dembélé.

Nevertheless, it was a response to Argentina taking the initiative. Deschamps had been dropped by Lionel Scaloni who gave width to his team by starting Di María, who hung out on the left and troubled Jules Koundé.

This will inform criticism of Deschamps. France is often spoken of in reluctant terms. They are clinical and cold, surgical and precise, pragmatic rather than flamboyant. They rely on moments, on flashes, sometimes even on opponents beating themselves.

What is often forgotten is that France can play. They were missing key players, but their depth is still enviable. After 71 minutes, Deschamps turned to the bench again, introducing Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman, who sparked the move that led to Mbappé’s spectacular second goal by dispossessing Messi.

France almost went into overdrive at 2-2. Still, it wasn’t how Deschamps wanted to win. He wanted an early goal, maybe from a set piece, then maybe another on the break. Two-zero would have been nice. Deschamps would have hated that a desperate and top-heavy France lost its identity and balance in midfield, the adrenaline level dropped during extra time, and Messi ran riot.

The question is whether Deschamps needs to send his team to play with more authority from the start. Throughout the tournament, there has been a feeling that France is doing just enough. They were lucky to escape with a 1-0 lead against England and Morocco. In the end, their luck caught up. It was their punishment for waiting too long to let their talent reveal itself.

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