Up until France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia in the final of the 2018 World Cup, Les Bleus were criticized for playing with the sort of pragmatic control that wins you titles but few admirers.
Half of the front four (Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi) were employed in yeoman’s work, while the left flank of Lucas Hernandez, N'Golo Kanté and Matuidi was there to destroy any fleeting moments of opposition joy.
After the semifinal win over Belgium, Thibaut Courtois labelled France “an anti-football team” while Eden Hazard declared that he preferred “to lose with this Belgium than to win with this France.”
But that lineup was only sensibly adopted by Didier Deschamps after the FIFA Ultimate Team approach yielded a nervy opening win over Australia (Mbappé-Griezmann-Dembélé up front) and perhaps the tournament’s worst game, a mind-numbing 0-0 draw with Denmark (Lemar-Giroud-Dembélé with Griezmann behind).
Still, the team produced some phenomenal stuff with Griezmann at his best, Mbappé personifying a Bugatti, Paul Pogba striding forward from midfield like the Colossus of Rhodes and Benjamin Pavard hitting dingers, but those who took issue with France’s approach will be glad to know that the handbrake hasn’t exactly come off so much as it’s been entirely discarded.
On Wednesday in a friendly against Wales, Deschamps went with a front three of Mbappé-Benzema-Griezmann and a midfield trio of Pogba-Tolisso-Rabiot. That’s a fantasy factory itself, and then we got to see Ousmane Dembélé, Kingsley Coman and Wissam Ben Yedder come off the bench.
The match was ruined when Wales' Neco Williams was given a straight red card for handling the ball in the area in the 25th minute, but maybe that’s a good thing heading toward the Euros. We don’t want to give Deschamps any reason to change this lineup.
The first goal arrived in the 34th minute after Rabiot’s shot was saved into the path of Mbappé. It’s his 17th international goal in 43 appearances.
He’s gonna be approaching 100 caps and 50 goals by the time he’s 25.
Who else but Mbappe for France ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/Y8v5RqHORJ— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 2, 2021
Mbappé then turned provider in the 47th minute with a backheel flick that found Griezmann on the edge of the area. With the defender inviting him to shoot, the Barcelona forward curled an effort into the far corner.
Beautiful link-up play between Mbappe and Griezmann for this goal pic.twitter.com/dfhA7uO2x5— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 2, 2021
The third was a glimpse of what Benzema now brings to the side. The Real Madrid hitman read the flight of an arching cross, adjusted, took it down beautifully with his chest and immediately rasped a right-footed effort off the inside of the post. Dembélé was there to tuck in the rebound.
Cayó el tercero del @equipedefranceCortesía de: Ousmane Dembélé
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) June 2, 2021
France has one more friendly — Tuesday against Bulgaria at the Stade de France — before opening Euro 2020 group play against Germany in Munich.
France Euro 2020 Schedule
Tuesday, June 15: France vs. Germany | 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
Saturday, June 19: France vs. Hungary | 9 a.m. ET on ESPN
Wednesday, June 23: France vs. Portugal | 3 p.m. ET on ESPN