Yilmaz’s Turkey thrashed De Ligt’s Holland (4-2), Cristiano, Fernandes and Silva’s Portugal barely beat Azerbaijan with a goal from Neves (1-0), De Bruyne’s Belgium dominated Wales de Bale (3-1), Oblak’s Slovenia held out against neighboring Modric’s Croatia (1-0), the last runner-up, and France, the reigning world champion, drew with Ukraine in Paris (1-1).
The empty stages must have weighed in the sequence of such atypical results. France began the defense of the world title it won in 2018 with a demonstration of its ambivalence. The tricolor team has the best players in Europe as long as they agree. They were perfectly coordinated in the first half of the game and were lenient in the second, allowing the modest visitor to Saint-Denis to give them a blow from which they did not recover. Griezmann crowned the best moments of his team with a goal from outside the area and Mbappé represented the worst as no one wastes more gifts than him. The striker with the greatest physical and technical qualities that exists adorned the night with superficial gestures until Deschamps replaced him to put in Martial, the epitome of the French star: one day he caused a bubble in the market and today he is passing through the football industry almost in anonymity but happy. Happy as Mbappé, a magnificent, polite and serene guy, who, logically, does not always seem to be interested in the unhealthy rigor that high competition demands.
Mbappé won a World Cup and they treated him like a cop. The day the rumor spread that Madrid wanted to sign him, mass hysteria broke out. Now they await him in every town like the Pele of the telecommunications era. France plays, therefore, and in the unconscious of the media chorus plays Mbappé dressed in radiant white and each ball that passes by is announced as a divine herald. But the one who scored was Griezmann. The reality script is often surprising. As rare as France entered the game displaying a game of unprecedented beauty.
Few times has a Deschamps team been seen to press so harmoniously or to administer the ball in a more precise and choral way. Everyone was navigating that river except Giroud, who is like a pole stuck in the rocky bed, and Ukraine could not help but go back when Griezmann handled a play with a divided ball very well. He let the center back win it and took the ball to the edge of the area. He armed his left foot as if he had all the time in the world and put the shot in the opposite square. He has 34 goals for France, a circumstance that makes him the fourth highest scorer for the national team after Henry, Giroud and Platini.
France were an intimidating team as they tidied up around Kanté and Rabiot, and while Griezmann and Coman split the unchecks into space to keep the Ukrainian rear tense. If Mbappé wanted to enter the game with resolution, the thing acquired splendid dimensions, but that happened only a couple of times. When in the second half everyone started to play like Mbappé, and Rabiot and Kanté were left with no other options than to hand over their passes at the foot of their colleagues, the Ukrainians began to assert themselves around their area, closing the spaces, stealing more balls and counterattacking . And when Zinchenko, Shaparenko and Malinovsky began to combine, they discovered that their rivals were no longer blocking their way. As they went back and forth from field to field, the four French attackers did not help the two midfielders and then, suddenly, an accident happened. Winger Karavaiev anticipated Mbappé, who had come down to help on defense, and gave the ball to Sidorchuk. The midfielder came from behind and hit him badly. The shot, which was going out, crashed in Kimpembe and got into the goal of Lloris.
The entries of Pogba, Martial and Dembélé did not correct the damage against a Ukraine that, hoping at the obvious possibility of winning a point, each minute that passed defended better.