France are the most forgettable World Cup winners for a very long time
France are world champions, but they won't be remembered fondly.
In 20 years time, when people look back on the 2018 World Cup, they'll speak about Cristiano Ronaldo's amazing hat-trick against Spain, Kylian Mbappe's brilliant performance against Argentina and Germany crashing out in the group stages. Neymar's ludicrous diving will also probably be recalled. The actual winners of the competition might then get a mention. That may seem harsh on France, but, in truth, they have almost been an afterthought from a sparkling month of football. A dour team who spent the World Cup playing with the handbrake on.
France had the most talented squad at the tournament. There were no obvious weaknesses within their side. Their substitute bench was more talented than most teams in Russia. Some of the players they left at home would have been among the best players in many of the other sides at the World Cup. Yet, they sleepwalked their way to the trophy, playing restrictive and needlessly dour football.
It really shouldn't have been like that though. France had the potential to be a genuinely memorable winner of the tournament. They had all the flair and the talent, with a rock-solid base to enable their brilliant forwards to go express themselves. But Didier Deschamps turned them into a turgid, reactive side, who were arguably fortunate to beat a country of just over four million in the final. Croatia dominated possession, created more chances and were behind at half-time despite France only having one shot on target, which was Antoine Griezmann's penalty.
Croatia didn't have France's strength in depth and they had to come through extra-time in their previous three matches. They had effectively played a full-match more than France on the way to the final. Despite having every advantage, including some questionable referring calls, and a two-goal lead going into the final 10-minutes, France still resorted to wasting time and putting every man behind the ball. The most talented team at the tournament were clinging on against an exhausted side representing a tiny country.
xG map for the World Cup Final. Very hard to say this was an impressive team performance by #FRA, but Umtiti and Varane prevented #CRO from creating clear chances and Mbappe and Pogba made the needed plays in attack. Individual talent won out. pic.twitter.com/oMfePQ6V1R
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) July 15, 2018
There was no cohesion or build-up play evident from the France team. There were no patterns of play beyond hoofing the ball towards Olivier Giroud or hoping for Kylian Mbappe to get them up the pitch with his blistering pace. They relied on individual talent, set-pieces and their defence to get them through. In the final, some questionable calls also aided them.
It wasn't a pragmatic performance against Croatia. It was needlessly cautious. The last team to be so dour in the World Cup final was the Netherlands in 2010, and on that occasion, the better side won. The more proactive, positive and better football team didn't win Sunday's final. France's stodgy and sterile side won. Olivier Giroud finishes the tournament with more winner's medals than shots on target.
Deschamps' team have been arguably the most forgettable winners of the tournament for a very long time. Of course, they won't care. France will get another star on their shirt. The record books will show they won the World Cup again. But, unlike the tournament itself, France's victory hasn't been entertaining, memorable or even interesting.