AL KHOR, Qatar — A football match can sometimes be decided in seconds. On Saturday evening, in the coolness of the Al-Bayt stadium, with their 2022 World Cup quarter-final tied 1-1 after goals from Aurélien Tchouameni and Harry Kane, Marcus Thuram was preparing to enter for France with about 10 minutes left to play. against an England team that had been at the top; Olivier Giroud was about to come off.
French coach Didier Deschamps had made up his mind, but he sensed something and decided to wait a little longer before making the substitution. Seconds later, Giroud’s volley was denied by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, before the No.9 scored almost on the heels in the 78th minute with a powerful header from a fishing cross from Antoine Griezmann.
After celebrating the goal with his teammates by running down the field to join Giroud in front of the French fans, Thuram sat down on the bench with a huge smile on his face. He wouldn’t come now, but that didn’t matter.
At this time of the match, France was under pressure. England were the better team, playing on the front foot and creating chances but failing to kill France. But this France team is all about resilience and mental strength. And when Kane had the chance to level the score – and become England’s top scorer – in the 84th minute, he scored his penalty over the bar after Theo Hernandez fouled Mason Mount.
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“The difference between the two teams was the mental toughness,” goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said after the game. “It was a tough game against a very good England side and they deserve a lot of praise because they put up a big fight. But we were solid in the important moments. We hurt them when it was necessary.”
It was an emotional night for Lloris as he became the most capped French player of all time with his 143rd appearance, overtaking defender Lilian Thuram who was watching in the stands. But there were no emotions on the pitch; France took that out of the game. To have that kind of killer instinct and tenacity, you have to do it. The English players were sometimes too emotional, with what was happening on the pitch, with the referee, with the importance of the quarter-final.
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“In games like this you have to be ruthless in every way,” added Lloris. “The further you go in the tournament, the more you have to elevate your game and have that mentality. There are no emotions. They can’t be part of your game. Today we played at the level. We were strong in the storm.”
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Strong in the storm sums up France’s performance very well.
“Sometimes the winner is not the best team, but the team that manages all the elements of the game the most and has that killer instinct,” Giroud said. “You have to put us down when you can because if you don’t we will put you down. We knew we would have one more chance at some point. We took it. To win a big FIFA Cup game world, you have to be clinical and we were. England was not enough.
Blues have been in this situation before. When you have to smile and endure because you’re under pressure to be able to come back stronger afterwards. Deschamps knew it.
“Talent is not enough in a team,” he said. “You need mental strength and also experience. At this level, it is won or lost with small margins. In a World Cup, you have to fight for results and change the dynamic”. of a game. There is a collective strength in this team. There is clearly something going on here, but we have to stay humble.”
France are in their seventh World Cup semi-final — only Germany have more (12). Deschamps has now won his 13th World Cup match and only Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari (14) and Germany’s Helmut Schon (16) have done better than him in World Cup history.
Deschamps knew how difficult it would be to beat England. He told his players before the game to expect a big fight. He told them that sometimes they were going to be under pressure and that they had to fight. He also told them that whatever happened during the game they would have a chance to win it at some point and they should take it. He was right.
When Giroud missed the first chance before the winning goal, he thought only of praying for another chance. “I was praying in my head for God to give me another chance,” he said. “And he did.”
Moments later, Giroud took it and France’s celebrations after the final whistle were wild. Like four years ago, when it mattered most and they lifted the World Cup trophy at Russia 2018, France have shown their resilience, collective strength and experience. They will still need every ounce of that in the semi-finals against underdogs Morocco.