We take a look at how Les Bleus prevailed in a must-win encounter in Group H, beating Iceland 1-0 courtesy of an Olivier Giroud penalty in Reykjavik.
Steve Mandanda – 7
The Marseille shot-stopper, who is currently the most in-form French goalkeeper inside or outside of the national team set-up, had a generally quiet night owing to Iceland’s inaptitude to string together sustained spells of attacking pressure. When he was called upon, almost exclusively from set-piece situations, Mandanda showed confidence in his claims and was smart and quick with the rolling of the ball from his hands to team-mates to kick-start moves. Lloris’ absence was certainly not negatively felt tonight.
Benjamin Pavard – 6
The Bayern Munich man had a quiet night, with little defensive work coming his way. He attempted to provide a consistent stream of support to Kingsley Coman in the way of overlapping runs, but, barring one impressively pinpoint cross at the end of the 1st half, Pavard didn’t affect attacking play as much as he perhaps should have done.
Raphaël Varane – 7
He combined well with Clément Lenglet to neutralise the attempted bustling attacking presence of opposition centre forward Kolbeinn Sigþórsson. However, most impressive tonight in his game was the accuracy of his long balls, to Olivier Giroud’s head to produce knockdowns and towards both flanks, with some particularly accurate placements to Lucas Digne.
Clément Lenglet – 7
The Barcelona man is quite rapidly making Les Bleus fans forget about Samuel Umtiti. Positionally he was fairly flawless tonight, but if we are splitting hairs than he still needs to work on getting the ball out of his feet a little quicker in order to accelerate the pace of France’s attacking moves from the back.
Lucas Digne – 6
The Everton man took a little while to warm into proceedings and the quality of his crossing was more volatile than his counterpart in the other full-back position, but halfway through the contest he began to produce some nice cutbacks. Slight concern came in the final 10 minutes for the ex-Barcelona left-back when he went down off the ball without anyone in his vicinity looking incredibly dazed. The French medical staff let him continue, potentially partially because Bayern Munich have spent most of this week trying to pressure Didier Deschamps into not utilising the other left-back in the squad, Lucas Hernandez, owing to injury concerns.
Moussa Sissoko – 7
Put in a workmanlike shift in the N’Golo Kanté role tonight, demonstrating fantastic professionalism when he was told just 10 minutes before kick-off that he would be stepping in for the Chelsea man after Kanté had a muscle flare up in the warm-up. Showed the joint most amount of energy tonight for Les Bleus, both in terms of aggressiveness in duels and also in the final 15 minutes of the contest when others’ fitness levels were fading.
Corentin Tolisso – 6
Tended to slow proceedings down in the crucial middle ground moments of attacking construction for Les Bleus this evening and made some poor decisions, embodied by a reckless shot off target towards the end of the game when Matuidi and others were available and less out of breath than Tolisso, who had just completed a 30m lung-busting run. He is going to need to ramp up his performance level against Turkey considerably if he is to leave a lasting impression and stake a legitimate claim to a spot in Deschamps’ XI post the return of Paul Pogba.
Kingsley Coman – 6
The Bayern man was electric in the previous international break, scoring three times, but this evening he was largely indecisive and struggled to replicate Kylian Mbappé’s penchant for cutting inside which is so critical for the right sided attacker in Deschamps’ now treasured asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 shape. He did represent an outlet that was always ready and willing to receive the ball, but almost exclusively from very wide positions, limiting the extent to which he could combine with Griezmann and Giroud effectively.
Antoine Griezmann – 6
Grizou remains the undisputed leader of Didier Deschamps’ France. He showed boundless energy in making last ditch tackles from minute one to minute 90, but as France’s main creative outlet, tonight, he should have produced more openings. However, he played the decisive role, winning the penalty after nipping ahead of the Icelandic defender, another example of his typical microlevel footballing intelligence that so often makes the difference for France.
Blaise Matuidi – 6
Matuidi fulfilled that slightly deeper, more nominal left midfielder position that serves as increased defensive protection for Les Bleus and a safety net to allow Lucas Digne to make highly offensive and consistent forward runs. As a result, the Juventus man’s best games in this position are often very under the radar. Tonight he put in 110% and showed good attacking instincts when opportunities presented themselves, notably being unlucky to hit the post from a situation in the second half. He remains critical to the current set up in unsettling 2nd and 3rd phases of opposition attacks.
Olivier Giroud – 7
Much maligned at Chelsea, Giroud showed fantastic feistiness and exploited the lack of a nominal defensive midfielder in Iceland’s 4-4-2 by positioning himself between the two banks of four, pulling players from both lines and creating space for Griezmann and others to receive the ball in space. He showed a cool composure for the winning goal, a penalty, waiting for the goalkeeper to dive before slotting home. You don’t understand why France won the World Cup if you cannot appreciate Giroud’s continued tactical importance to everything that Les Bleus do going forward. Tracked back very well in the 2nd half too.