5 Reasons why France won the World Cup
20 years after Didier Deschamps lifted the trophy at the Stade De France, the French manager was there to do the same at the Luzhinki Stadium. Deschamps and his French team had their doubters, especially after the disaster that was the Euro 2016 final.
Since then, this team has come a long way- adding the likes of Kylian Mbappe, N'Golo Kante (who stayed in the bench in that final), Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez to their starting lineup. Yet even before the tournament, only a minority felt that the Les Blues could add a second star to their jerseys.
While Les Blues were arguably one of the most talented teams in the World Cup, this was not the main reason they won the World Cup. After all, similarly talented teams like Germany, Spain, and Brazil were eliminated in earlier stages of the competition. Throughout the competition, France held their cool even when they struggled to break down opposing defences or on the one occasion where they trailed (against Argentina in the Round of 16).
So what are some of the reasons why France managed to achieve immortality in Moscow?
Note: All statistics in this article are courtesy of WhoScored.
#1 The Defence led by Raphael Varane
A rather stale cliché in American sports is that “Defence wins Championships”, yet nowhere is there truer than in the FIFA World Cup. Take the records of the previous five World Cup winners: from 1998 to 2014, the champions conceded two, four, two, two and four goals respectively (in seven games). Compared to that record, Les Blues were actually leaky: conceding six goals in the tournament.
Yet if one actually looks at the context of the goals, then it can be argued that France’s defence was better than previous Champions. Just take five of those six goals: a penalty conceded unnecessarily by Samuel Umtiti punching the ball, an Angel Di Maria worldie, an inadvertent deflection, a consolation goal for Argentina and a crazy Hugo Lloris error in the World Cup final.
Their underlying statistics were incredibly impressive: only conceding nine shots per game (usually hopeful long-range efforts). Perhaps most impressive was the manner in which the defense managed to shut out the tournament’s best attack in Belgium despite being under pressure for large parts of the game.
Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti were imperious in the middle of the park, shutting down opposition attacks with alarming maturity for two defenders under 26 years old. Varane was particularly brilliant, averaging 6.3 clearances per game. While many wanted Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy to start as full-backs, Deschamps decided to go with Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. The duo (like the entire defence) proved their manager right.