Football Features

France 1-0 Belgium: Saliba and Co compensate for malfunctioning Les Bleus attack

By CJ Smith

France 1-0 Belgium: Saliba and Co compensate for malfunctioning Les Bleus attack

Published: 19:16, 1 July 2024

France booked their place in the Euro 2024 quarter-finals with a narrow 1-0 win over Belgium on Monday.

Like fellow co-favourites EnglandLes Bleus have come under fire from their supporters at the tournament so far with just two goals scored in their three group games, while no French player scored from open play during that time; a Max Wober own goal delivered a 1-0 win over Austria in their first game, while Kylian Mbappe scored from the spot in the 1-1 draw against Poland following a goalless stalemate with the Netherlands.

But also like England, France found a way through the last 16 despite facing plenty of adversity.

The less said about the first half in Dusseldorf the better, with the two sides managing just one shot on target and 0.38 xG between them. Naturally, France edged it, but neither team could establish any real dominance with both seemingly bending under the weight of pressure from their supporters and media.

Things started to open up after the break, with both sides trading decent chances. Koen Casteels was forced into a fingertip save from Aurelien Tchouameni early into the second half, while Romelu Lukaku was denied by Mike Maignan at the other end amid a flurry of half-chances and nearly moments.

But it was France who finally broke the deadlock in the 85th minute, working the ball from left to right and getting it to Randal Kolo Muani. The PSG man turned inside the box and unleashed a shot toward Casteels, who was wrong-footed by a deflection from Jan Vertonghen, only able to watch the ball go into his net as he dived the wrong way.

The goal was marked down as a Vertonghen own goal which, of course, means we still haven’t seen an open-play goal from a French player at this tournament. Incredible from a side with immense attacking talents like Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Marcus Thuram.

William Saliba leads French rearguard effort

Didier Deschamps’ attack might be malfunctioning, but nobody can question the defensive set-up he’s crafted for this France side. More remarkable, it’s a rearguard effort being led by William Saliba who has played every single minute for France at Euro 2024 so far, despite completing 90 minutes for his nation on just seven occasions ahead of the tournament.

Saliba was once again a colossal presence at the back for the two-time European Championship winners, making four clearances, three recoveries, two interceptions and one tackle, while also winning two of his four aerial duels and not allowing a single opposition forward to dribble past him.

The Arsenal man also displayed all his composure and technical prowess with the ball, misplacing just two of his 66 passes (none in the first half), while posting 100% success rates for long passes and dribbles.

Even on the rare occasions Saliba was caught out of position, his teammates were there to clean up, with Theo Hernandez’s incredible last-ditch tackle to deny Yannick Carrasco in the second half arguably the most important moment of the match aside from the goal.

Alongside Spain, France have the joint-best defensive record at Euro 2024 so far with just one goal conceded. As if poking fun at their own offensive record, that one goal was a Robert Lewandowski penalty, meaning only France and Slovenia are yet to concede from open play.

Major international tournaments are so often won by fine margins and right now, France’s defence is keeping things warmed up and ready for when Mbappe and Co decide they want to get involved.