It will be France and not England who face Morocco in Wednesday’s second semi-final after goals from Aurélien Tchouaméni and Oliver Giroud helped them win 2-1 against the team of Gareth Southgate. The game was contested throughout and without a surprising penalty miss from Harry Kane, it may have been England who made it to the last four. But such margins decide knockout matches and the Three Lions will have to wait another four years to try and win football’s biggest prize again.
Here’s how the match was won and lost on a dramatic night at Al Bayt Stadium.
Right of mind
All eyes were on Kylian Mbappe on France’s left flank and he started the game crouching as if ready to sprint 100m. But the flow of play went down the other side of the pitch, with the ball heading towards Ousmane Dembele. Even when Mbappe was on the ball, he tended to drift inside and use his teammates. It is no surprise that Aurélien Tchouaméni broke the deadlock by completing a movement from the right flank. Mbappe sent the ball down the field to Dembele, who provided the assist for an excellent long-range strike. England also sought to attack their right flank. Bukayo Saka took the ball and suffered rough treatment. But it’s also the area from which England created chances after falling behind. Even working the ball just inside Saka’s wing, there was room to shoot on goal.
Rice leads the fight
England sides from previous eras crumbled after falling behind on goals such as Tchouaméni, but Gareth Southgate’s players, after a quick conflab as France celebrated, held on and started to create chances . Most of their play came from Declan Rice, who sat in front of the defense and dictated the pace of the game for England. He showed a range of passes, spreading the ball out to the wings or keeping possession when a shorter ball was on. He was positive with his distribution and it was a mature performance, 17 months after the disappointment of being substituted in the European Championship final. The England midfielder was working on a plan, with Jordan Henderson to Rice’s right and helping Kyle Walker score Kylian Mbappe, while also making himself available when England advanced.
Harry Kane uses his radar in game to assess where he can impact the game, which can see him play in his deeper role as a No.10. But he clearly felt he could get past Dayot Upamecano and play on the centre-back’s shoulder from Bayern Munich. This led to England’s best passing game, with Kane dispatched and his finish saved by Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris, who did well to read that a finish would be chipped. Later, Kane also turned Upamecano and was unlucky not to get a penalty, with a clear round just on the edge of the box and was sent off to Var. It was also Kane who forced Lloris into a save with a powerful drive from the edge of the penalty area. While Upamecano played a key role in France’s first-half goal, he also looked like the centre-back England would target for an error.
Alarm bells for France
Encouraged by a volley that required a spectacular save from Lloris, Jude Bellingham was increasingly influential in the second half. He carried the ball forward and broke the lines for England, his last runs in enemy territory causing a problem for France. It’s still unbelievable that he makes such mature decisions on the ball for a teenager. He chooses the right moments to advance into space but will keep the ball and find a nearby teammate. At halftime, it wasn’t the veterans who were the first to approach the referee and complain about the trip on Kane which could have been a penalty. It was the youngest member of the team who did the trick. When Theo Hernandez’s foul led to a penalty, Bellingham told the referee “how’s that not a red card?”
Old fashioned ball in the box
Despite all the complex play in midfield and speed on the wings, France’s second goal came from an old-fashioned cross from the wing, curved into the zone of uncertainty for the opposition. England had been given a warning moments earlier when Dembele nodded into Olivier Giroud’s path and his side finish produced an excellent save from Jordan Pickford. But from a corner in the next phase of the game, the ball was returned to Antoine Griezmann, who had time to achieve the perfect cross between Harry Maguire and John Stones. It’s the type of delivery Giroud has nurtured his entire career and the most prolific goalscorer in France’s history has added another to his tally.