It was very much a World Cup tournament of two halves for France in 2018.
Les Bleus headed to Russia as one of the favourites. Didier Deschamps had quite the squad at his disposal, including the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe. The expectation was that this team would score goals. A lot of them.
Deschamps did name a fairly exciting attacking trio for their opener against Australia, with Mbappe being flanked by Griezmann and Dembele. It didn’t click, however, and France needed a penalty and an own goal to eke out a 2-1 win.
Their next outing was against Peru and Deschamps made changes with Blaise Matuidi and Olivier Giroud replacing Corentin Tolisso and Dembele in the starting XI. He also moved them away from a 4-3-3 and into a 4-4-1-1 shape.
Giroud spearheaded the attack and was supported by Griezmann. Mbappe was deployed on the right and Matuidi was, perhaps surprisingly, used as a left-sided midfielder. Deschamps had earlier made the decision to start four centre-backs in defence, with Lucas Hernandez playing as a left-back and Benjamin Pavard being used at right-back. So, despite having an embarrassment of riches within his squad, Deschamps’ preferred XI was made up of four centre-backs, three central midfielders, a traditional No. 9, a versatile forward and the best young attacker in the world.
France managed a 1-0 win courtesy of an Mbappe goal, though it was far from straightforward as Peru pushed for an equaliser in the second half. Deschamps had managed to guide his team, rather unconvincingly, into the knockout stages. A weakened XI took to the field for the final group outing against Denmark in a 0-0 draw.
So, one of the most exciting squads in the tournament had managed a measly three goals in three outings.
Argentina were their opponents in the round of 16. They had just escaped Group D after Marcos Rojo scored an 86th minute winner against Nigeria to lift them into second position. France opened the scoring, again via the penalty spot, before Angel Di Maria levelled the game just before half-time.
And then the game exploded into life with four goals in 20 minutes.
Argentina took the lead in the 48th minute before Pavard scored the goal of the tournament to equalise. Mbappe then scored twice in four minutes to effectively kill the tie off. Sergio Aguero found the backof the net in added time but it was too late to stage a comeback.
In the space of 90 minutes, France had more than doubled their goals haul for the tournament.
Deschamps’ side then scored two against Uruguay to set up a semi-final clash with Belgium. In a game containing Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Mbappe, Griezmann and Pogba, few would’ve envisaged Samuel Umtiti scoring the winner, but that is exactly what happened as France edged out Roberto Martinez’s golden generation to reach the World Cup final.
The final in Moscow was yet another chaotic game with an own goal anda penalty once again giving France a half-time advantage. Pogba and Mbappe scored in a devastating six-minute spell to give Les Bleus a 4-1 lead with just 25-minutes left to play. Mario Mandzukic made amends for his earlier own goal by scoring at the right end but the unlikely finalists had given themselves too much to do to salvage the match.
France averaged a goal per game in the group but then averaged 2.75 goals per game in the knockout rounds. In something of an unconventional way, Deschamps delivered.