France’s World Cup run is turning into a triumph for coach Didier Deschamps, who has won over those who felt he had stayed in charge too long and is within touching distance of another final.
Victory over England on Saturday means France now face Morocco in the last four on Wednesday, and whatever happens there, Deschamps will be free to decide if he wants to extend his 10-year spell in charge.
“The ball is in my court and I will decide. I will be here for the semifinal and then we’ll see. One thing at a time,” said Deschamps after fulfilling the objective set out for him by French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet.
“The president is happy. Lots of people are happy. But I want to savour being back in the last four. I am thinking about Wednesday, not about other things.”
Deschamps was appointed in 2012 and some felt he should have bowed out on a high after France’s 2018 World Cup triumph.
What followed was a disappointing performance at Euro 2020, when they lost in the last 16 despite a return for Karim Benzema from the international wilderness.
With Zinedine Zidane available and seemingly ready to become France’s next coach, the World Cup in Qatar has arguably been Deschamps’ greatest challenge yet.
The holders appeared diminished by injuries coming into the tournament, deprived of starting midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and then of Benzema before a ball had been kicked.
Many wondered if France would go the way of the past three reigning champions, Italy, Spain and Germany, who were all knocked out of the next World Cup in the group phase.
“We’ll admit that we had doubted Didier Deschamps a little bit. We wondered if he hadn’t stayed too long, if he still had his mojo,” said the daily Le Parisien in an editorial on Sunday.
“He came to Qatar surrounded by some doubts. Those have been swept away. It is as if nothing could stop this France team. A France that wins. Deschamps’ France.”
SHADOW OF ZIDANE
Olivier Giroud has stepped up spectacularly in the absence of Benzema, with the veteran striker scoring four times in Qatar, including the winner against England.
Deschamps decided just before the tournament to ditch his experiment with a three-man defence and revert to a 4-3-3 formation.
Most significantly, he has solved his midfield conundrum by turning forward Antoine Griezmann into arguably the best playmaker at the tournament.
Short of form coming into the World Cup and without an international goal in more than a year, the Atletico Madrid player was brilliant once more against England, setting up both goals.
“He is aware of the quality of his players and top players, at a World Cup, kind of need little bits of advice rather than having to do lots of hard work,” David Trezeguet, who won the 1998 World Cup alongside Deschamps, told AFP.
“Deschamps has understood his players and he has managed to get all his players to give their maximum.”
There is an aura about the 54-year-old, who is associated with the French national team’s greatest moments over the past quarter of a century.
He captained Les Bleus to their first World Cup in 1998 and to victory at Euro 2000 before coaching them to their triumph in Russia four years ago.
France’s recent major tournament record is formidable – they have won two of the past six World Cups and reached another final in that time.
Deschamps also took them to the Euro 2016 final and France are now just one game away from another World Cup final.
“He is very serene. He has prepared this competition very, very well,” said his assistant Guy Stephan.
“He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He has the experience of major tournaments and that experience benefits the team.”
If France beat Morocco and then win the final they will be the first team in 60 years to successfully defend the World Cup, and Deschamps will be the first coach to win the trophy twice since Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.
??This is the 1st time since 1990,the reigning World Cup winner & runner-up have made it to semifinals of the FIFA World Cup.
?????Are we going to see a repeat of the 2018 World Cup Final between France & Croatia?#FIFAWorldCup|#FRA|#ENGFRA pic.twitter.com/2RXVPJnESf— FIFA World Cup Stats (@alimo_philip) December 11, 2022
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