Football Features

Fabulous but fragile: France’s win over Belgium showed a supreme side heading for heartache

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:44, 14 July 2022

France have beaten Belgium 2-1 at Euro 2022, sealing their place as Group D winners.

The scoreline was tight, yet the performance was anything but as the French dominated the Belgians from start to finish. That it ended up being so close is one of two negatives on a night of glory for one of the pre-tournament favourites.

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The other problem was star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto having to leave the field with an injury in the first-half. Of course by then it was already 1-0 as Kadidiatou Diana headed home Sakina Karchaoui’s booming back-post cross.

With Katoto watching on, France inexplicably conceded an equaliser when a simple long ball behind the defence saw Griedge Mbock Bathy caught out and Janice Cayman snuck in to score. However Mbock Bathy soon made up for that mistake, heading home the second French goal just before half-time to make it 2-1.

That is the score it would remain at for the rest of the game, even as France were clearly the better side and dominated the ball and game. They peltered shots at the Belgian goal but struggled to create any really meaningful chances beyond a stoppage time penalty that Wendie Renard somehow missed.

The thing is, you were still enthralled watching France even with their shoddy finishing because the quality of their football is so high. Beyond the final touch, France are the equal of anything at Euro 2022 when it comes to aesthetics. Their style of play is wonderful to watch and their players are daring and dynamic (and they have the tournament’s best kit by far).

But they are also fragile in a way that the other two favourites England and Germany aren’t.

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France can be gotten at, as the Belgians showed today. Even as they carved Italy into a rennaissance-era sculpture, they still conceded a goal. And today for all their dominance they were never more than one goal ahead of a Belgian side they are obviously better than.

Yes Katoto’s injury was a factor, but they still had the quality to turn out Belgium’s lights and they just didn’t. England beat Belgium 3-0 in a pre-tournament friendly, Austria took them out 0-1. When they met Norway in 2021 they got blitzed 4-0.

Meanwhile France laboured to two goals. Sure, they had 27 shots, but how many of those were glaring misses? They only scored twice! And when Renard had the chance to drive the dagger in late on from the spot she squiffed a terrible effort at goal then scuffed the rebound wide.

That didn’t matter in the end, but it shows the French side’s potential for calamity, something England and Germany have shown no hint of.

There’s no doubt France are mesmeric in motion, they play liquid football. Yet you can absolutely see them coming unstuck against a less than glamourous opponent in the quarter-finals or semi-finals, losing 1-0 in a game where they miss a host of chances.

As winners of Group D, they will face runners-up of Group C which could be literally anyone in the group but is likely to be Sweden or the Netherlands. Neither side is as good as France but you can definitely see them pulling out a surprise win in a game where Les Bleues dominate but fall victim to defensive dysfunction yet again.