Held in check by Ukraine this Wednesday, March 24 (1-1), the French football team began its qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a failure unworthy of its status. Perhaps unlucky on the Ukrainian equalizer, the Blues nevertheless lacked sharpness against an opponent largely within his reach. A pattern too often glimpsed under Didier Deschamps facing grouped blocks.
Nothing to do with the last meeting. When the Blues left the lawn of the Stade de France on October 7, proud of an easy success (7-1), they surely had no idea that Ukraine would manage to hang the draw barely six months later in the same pregnant (1-1). This Wednesday, March 24, the France team was surprised from its very first qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup by an opponent largely within its reach.
This time, Ukraine had a much larger workforce, left a little quieter by the cases of Covid-19. Unlike last October, the yellow and blue did not have to register goalkeeper coach Oleksandr Shovkovskiy (46) on the scoresheet … But that would not be enough to explain the difficulties experienced by the France team to first materialize a quickly acquired lead (Griezmann, 19th), then to take things in hand after conceding a goal against his clearly unlucky side (Kimpembe, 57th).
“We should have taken shelter in the first period. We had chances, after that we probably lacked a little pep in the second half“, said Didier Deschamps after the meeting. For the coach of the Blues, his players were”not at the top of freshness“and no question of pointing to gaps in the offensive animation.”We have five clear chances, with 18 strikes but only three on target. It’s not necessarily when there are the most offensive players that it works“, he defended himself after the particularly discreet performances of Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud (no shot on target between them). The newcomers Anthony Martial and Ousmane Dembélé have hardly given the spectators more celebration.
But the question of offensive animation goes beyond that of the strict choice of players, the number of offensive assets lined up in the starting XI or even the spectacle offered by the actors. As often, the Deschamps team, reigning world champion and renowned for its exceptional pool, seemed very far from exploiting its full potential against an opponent grouped together and organized as a low block. In September 2016 against Belarus, the Blues had already started their previous World Cup qualifying campaign with a draw against a weaker opponent but decided to avoid defeat (0-0). In another context, during the 2018 World Cup, they had made a tasteless performance against a Denmark come not to lose (0-0).
This tasteless meeting was quickly put away by the addition of a second star to the French list. But the strength of the world champion team was its ability to throw itself into the depths quickly with Paul Pogba as a launching pad for Kylian Mbappé behind the opposing defense, particularly glaring in the founding success against Argentina (4 -3). Against Ukraine this Wednesday evening, these spaces were covered by a very low block based on a three axial defense (Matvyenko-Kryvtsov-Zabarnyi), limiting the playing field of the Coman and Mbappé rockets.
Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko has admitted using last October’s 7-1 loss to fire up a new plan. “We worked in conjunction with video analysts to provide guidance to defensive players. The French have a lot of talent in the one-on-one. Offering compact lines was a solution to this problem “, explained the former Ballon d’Or. Didier Deschamps also seemed taken aback by the tactical adaptation of the evening’s opponent.
“It’s a team that came to defend well and it’s the first time we’ve seen them in this organization in their last twenty games. “, recognized the coach of the Blues who, as usual, did not touch his convictions. In addition to keeping a 4-2-3-1 device and central defenders training on the sides, “DD” even came out of the closet his idea of placing a central midfielder at the winger position. After Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko, it was Adrien Rabiot that he entrusted this role (he played on the left from the hour mark), without success.