Another bad day for long-haired svengali coaches with talented attacking teams that can’t finish, no matter how much we like them.
Joining yesterday’s shutout victim, Morocco, a zesty Peruvian side is knocked out with a game remaining in the group, unfortunately amplifying the Cueva PK howler from the first match with stodgy Denmark, whom I dislike even more. One can’t call it an unjust result, though Peru had more of the ball and the goal came from a deflection that could have gone anywhere, but landed where anyone reading this could have scored. There were a few big differences from Peru’s first match, though, namely that France was able to defend with authority on the flanks, Superman wears a #13 shirt for the French just in front, and Les Blues can generate a dazzling attack and an instant. They didn’t do it often, but enough to tantalize and suggest.
In the end, for all its possession, Morocco only generated two chances, a brilliant simple touch by Guerrero that left Umtiti undone but Lloris untroubled by the shot. Guerrero--“the Predator!” (as he’s called, at least according to Jorge Perez Navarro, a man who seems suspiciously likely to invent nicknames as a nervous tic)--will remember that shot just as much as Cueva, all their days. They came close once more, when Aquino’s scorched outside-of-foot shot could only graze the post; 8 inches to the right and it’s probably the goal of the tournament. The Peruvian fans rocked the house again but go home in tears. I was a bit surprised that the coach did not send more men forward, particularly to get close to the isolated Guerrero. Oh well.
France...well, Vive le France, in a slightly muted tone. On the one hand, a solid victory over a very impressive team. Kante was the obvious an man of the match for me, both for his ability to break up play without fouling and for doing it while looking like a 14-year old kid (both in the face and in frame). Giroud provided a bit more of a pivot and one more huge defender on set pieces, and both Pogba and Mbappe provided one or two moments that tantalized, the latter when cutting in from the right and Pogba with his characteristic teardrop chip just over the backline. I have long struggled to see the full quality of Matuidi; he’s just never impressed me as anything special in the 6-8 games in which I’ve seen him (and live as well in beautiful Eugene, Oregon with PSG, who was so kind to play a friendly right in between String Cheese Incident shows). It’s clear that Deschamps worries about the lack of defensive work from a Dembele-Mbappe combination, and Matuidi certainly puts in a shift. But man, he just doesn’t ever seem to deliver the precise quality needed when going forward. I’m still hoping Tolisso gets a look--and he very well might when France clears the bench for the meaningless 3rd game against a Poulsen-less Denmark. I don’t envy Deschamps--there are always going to be selection questions, just too much talent on the team. Lastly, a very good day for the young outside backs, Hernandez and Pavard--it’s key for them to get settled and I think they’ve done quite well on that account.
Not a great game, lacking the ecstasy of peak France or Peruvians keeping the window open, but a few sweet moments and nothing that boiled the blood.