Three things we learnt as France are eliminated from Euro 2024

France finally found a goal from open play at Euro 2024 as Randal Kolo Muani opened the scoring early in their semi-final against Spain. However, a wonder goal from teenage sensation Lamine Yamal would level the affair before a driven shot from Dani Olmo would deflect off Jules Koundé and find the back of the net. France would huff and puff in the second half, but the damage had already been done. Spain had won and eliminated the pre-tournament favourites from the competition. 

France lose the midfield battle

France’s rock-solid defence had been at the heart of their grind to the semi-final, and for the first time since arriving in Germany, it was put to the sword in the first half by a team that looked at ease working the ball through the lines. Didier Deschamps’ selection of a midfield consisting of Adrien Rabiot, N’Golo Kanté, and Aurélien Tchouaméni struggled with the task of protecting the backline against a swarm of Spanish players willing to float and shift around the pitch, creating increasingly uncomfortable angles for the white shirts to snuff out. 

France tended to want Rabiot and Tchouaméni to protect the space just in front of the centre-backs. However, the movement of the Spanish midfield combined with Yamal and Nico Williams’ willingness to drift inside posed a problem where Spain could consistently find a free man to drag the French double pivot out of shape. The result was simple to see, a France defence that had only conceded one goal in the entire tournament up until this point had allowed two in the first 45 minutes against this Spain side. 

Didier Deschamps forced to release the handbrake 

Despite scoring early in the game, France looked a far more positive team in the second half as they looked to finally take the game to Spain as they searched for a way to level the scores. France attempted to attack down the wings and whip in crosses to try and apply pressure on Unai Simón’s goal. It felt as if the handbrake that had been firmly held down by Deschamps throughout the tournament was beginning to lift. 

This feeling was only confirmed as Deschamps rolled the dice and made sweeping positive changes midway through the second half. The manager brought on Antoine Griezmann, Bradley Barcola, and Eduardo Camavinga for Rabiot, Kanté, and Kolo Muani. France felt a far more fluid and interesting side when forced to search for an equaliser. 

However, while they had more attacking players on the pitch, the French team continued their tournament-long conflict with finding the goal. France struggled to convert any promising moments into threatening shots on target. Even the late addition of Olivier Giroud failed to add that little bit of quality to open up the Spanish defence. It will particularly go down as a terrible tournament for Kylian Mbappé who managed to score only once from a penalty. 

Olivier Giroud’s sorry swan song 

Giroud had been clear ahead of the tournament that this would be his final appearance for France before he would retire from international duty. He had mentioned wanting to make way and allowing a pathway for the next generation of French attackers to make their mark on the national team. And finally tonight, a run of seven consecutive international tournaments representing Les Bleus would end not with a bang but a whimper. 

The all-time record goal scorer for France had not been allowed many opportunities to make his mark on EURO 2024. He had been underused by Deschamps throughout the competition even as the manager experimented with his lineups and attacking options. Giroud’s commitment and physical preparation had come under question, leading to what felt like a sad end for a brilliant career with the national team. 

This tournament will not be what Giroud will be remembered for as a France player, but it will have to serve as the gravestone to a brilliant career. His successors had been provided a chance to impress and impose their name on the national team, and none had come close to answering the question of who will follow in Giroud’s footsteps.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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