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Cooney on soccer: Keeping an eye on France, Skibbereen Eagle style

Stephen Kenny may find a shred of comfort in Mbappe’s lack of pressing.

This dispatch from Qatar by Gavin Cooney is available in full exclusively to The42 Members. 

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I WENT ALONG to the Al Janoub stadium last night to keep a watchful eye on France ahead of Euro 2024 qualifying, Skibbereen Eagle style.

There was a curiously foreboding undercurrent to the French media coverage of their team ahead of this World Cup, with Didier Deschamps using his pre-match press conference to ask the press to cut his team a bit of slack. 

Their injury list did of course feed into that pessimism back home, but if there’s any country on earth that could absorb the losses of Kante, Pogba, Benzema and Nkunku, it’s France. 

But for 18 minutes last night it seemed that the wariness back home was well-founded, as Australia took a shock lead and France played terribly, misplacing passes and lacking any kind of cohesion. All changed, though, when Adrien Rabiot scored the equaliser from Theo Hernandez’ cross. Mbappe then took over, either scoring or creating the rest of the French goals in a 4-1 win. 

Stephen Kenny and Keith Andrews are due out here in Qatar in a couple of days’ time to scout France and Holland ahead of Euro 2024 qualifying and while the individual qualities of Mbappe and Olivier Giroud caught the eye last night, the Irish management team may zone in on the role of one of the forwards who didn’t score: Antoine Griezmann. 

Griezmann played in the number 10 role in Deschamps’ 4-2-3-1 system, though had a somewhat free role, roaming around to create space first for himself and then others.

What little pressing France did, Griezmann was to the fore of – only Giroud (!) and Rabiot made more pressing actions – and while he sometimes stayed central, he often drifted off to the left wing. Doing this was a clever way of creating space for Mbappe. That Mbappe is France’s main attacker is blindingly obvious to anyone watching the game and the stats back that up. Of all of France’s entries into Australia’s final third, 45% of them came down Mbappe’s side. 

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

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The classic example of what Giroud and Griezmann bring to the France team was evident not necessarily in the goals but the one Mbappe shockingly missed. 

Griezmann has pulled so wide here that he is almost out of the TV shot (seeing this is one of the benefits of being lucky enough to attend the game.) 

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Gavin Cooney

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