Deschamps and Mbappe

Football keeps on giving, and on 28 June 2021 the Euro 2020 Round of 16 served up a day of days in football. 

2008 Champions Spain rallied from a goal down to lead Croatia 3-1 with minutes left before the Blazers sensationally forced extra time where two further Spanish strikes sealed a pulsating 5-3 thriller. Shortly after, the exact sequel played out at Bucharest’s National Arena, with current world champions France facing Switzerland in the last 16’s David vs Goliath clash.

Didier Deschamps’ side had also overturned a one-goal deficit to lead 3-1 in Romania and were on the cusp of booking their place in the quarter-finals against Spain later this week.

Didier Deschamps’ men matched up with their opponents’ back three, partly due to injuries, but struggled to find any kind of fluency, and fell behind 15 minutes in.

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The French improved markedly in the second half after reverting to the regular back four and got themselves into a 3-1 lead, they were pegged back late on and taken into extra time after a sensational comeback from the Swiss.

An inspired Switzerland side reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament for just the second time in their history. they denied the French a consecutive international tournament following their 2018 FIFA World Cup victory

An all-round brilliant display from the Swiss was founded on their strong start which unsettled the heavy favourites and yielded a deserved opener. Crucially, they had the character and stamina to maintain their dominance and magnificently turn the tie on its head and execute five superb spot-kicks under intense pressure.

Les Bleus inquest

Ecstatic Switzerland heroes celebrate a famous win against the world Champions

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Deschamps sought to explain the country’s dramatic exit.

“It is always complicated to explain. We failed with our first half, we did what was needed to turn it around in the second half. Usually, our strength is being solid, we showed weakness that allowed Switzerland back in. This is hard, it hurts, we did everything we could for this to end differently. That’s football. Today, this tournament ends for us today. There are no magic formulae, there are balances to find.”

Team selections and in-game management aside, Deschamps will face certain backlash over the privileges afforded Kylian Mbappe.

A maverick and the nation’s Golden Boy, no doubt, but the France coach had been criticized for handing the PSG star freekick duties despite not being a specialist, unlike some teammates. Mbappe struggled to produce his best performances and it seemed logical to relieve the underfiring youngster of too many responsibilities. 

Previously, his pre-tournament public spat with attacking teammate Olivier Giroud over a perceived lack of service was taken personally and overboard by the youngster. Repeatedly calling out a senior colleague – the nation’s second-leading goalscorer, no less – just days leading up to a major tournament became an unwanted distraction. 

On the pitch, Mbappe’s lack of spark upfront can ironically be attributed to Giroud’s lack of playing time.

In theory, getting the more mobile, more in-form Karim Benzema back from international wilderness is a brilliant move due to the mere fact he is a better striker than the Chelsea man. However, the key change in dynamics to the team which won the World Cup proved costly.

Giroud is anything but prolific yet he is perhaps the best pure target man in the world. The key reason Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann excelled in Russia was due to Giroud’s generous linkup and fantastic hold-up play, which created openings aplenty for his technically gifted strike partners.

For the most part, the pragmatic French were able to relieve spells of pressure via the Route One option of Giroud, in turn providing several counter-attacking opportunities for his fleet-footed colleagues.

It was ominous in the late stages of normal time, as France underwent waves of attack from the sprightly Swiss, Mbappe was denied space to run in behind as Benzema increasingly came short for the ball. The big man up front was not there to soak up aerial balls and occupy the three Swiss centre-backs.

It was a recurring theme of their entire tournament in the Group of Death.

Kylian’s First Major Setback

Kylian Mbappe was ultimately the villain of the night after seeing his crucial spot-kick saved by Yann Sommer.

Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe goes home having not scored a single goal at the tournament and it surprised few when his wayward penalty was well-saved. He had registered the most touches in the box (32) at Euro 2020 without finding the net.

The 22-year-old had been lacklustre all tournament and his shooting was particularly off on the night. 

His campaign was a major disappointment summarized by that decisive miss, and he will be reflective of his actions over the summer. The first major setback in his otherwise lofty professional career so far will be a watershed moment for one of the world’s leading young players.

He will have many more major tournament appearances and certainly chances to create more memories in the latter stages; but for now, Mbappe’s on and off-pitch conduct have let his country down.

France’s star player will be back, Les Bleus will be back.


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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