One of the under-appreciated joys at the early stage of a tournament is hopping around the teams to see just how good everyone is, but the best have probably been saved for last.
There is nothing under-appreciated about France. This win over Germany showed precisely why most people have rather boringly predicted them to be champions.
They may even render the closing stages of Euro 2020 rather boring – or at least an anti-climax – because there is at least the threat they could win it at a canter. The world champions certainly seemed like they had another few gears to go through in a commanding victory over another supposed top-tier team. The reality is that France look a few levels above Germany – and it might have been by a few more goals had Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema not been quite so eager – and at least a step or two ahead of Portugal, England and Italy.
The return of Benzema didn’t even have to do much. That’s something else they can save for later, when it’s required.
This isn’t to necessarily say the French themselves are boring. They offer moments of beauty and exhilaration, particularly through Paul Pogba’s divine passes and the pace of Mbappe. That attack in full counter-attacking flow is joyous. It was close to a football tragedy that Mbappe strayed offside for his own finish, because everyone watching surely made the same sound of purring appreciation when it went in.
France do look like they’ve moved up a level in attack, from 2018. There’s a deeper level of integration, and maybe a greater sense of self-expression. Pogba was weaving his right foot like a paintbrush.
All of it still stems from the same block of a base, though. They are just so solid in the centre. It feels like there’s just too much for any opposition to work through, which was why it was so surprising Germany didn’t go wider earlier.
They only add to the questions for Jogi Low, but they aren’t the only team that will struggle for solutions against France.
Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe met almost everything that came their way with authority. If they didn’t, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez were ready to drop back. If there was somehow a gap appearing after that, N’Golo Kante – of course – was there to fill it.
Is there a player in world football who seems such a guarantee of success as the Chelsea midfielder. Having him in your team means having a side a few levels better than it would be. He makes a team almost impermeable.
Chelsea and France midfielder N’Golo Kante (left)
And this is going to be a problem for everyone else. France are so difficult to get at, but will always create just enough chances to hurt you, with more than enough quality to take them. Pogba’s majesty and Antoine Griezmann’s drive here just forced Mats Hummels into a mistake. The Germans were hapless at the back in terms of basic organisation, but it looked even worse when set against the French.
That’s another quality of Didier Deschamps’ team. They will commit fewer errors than you will.
That is going to go even further in the more suppressed world of international football, compared to the club game.
For anyone that still has any doubt, you should be able to see now why Gareth Southgate almost wants to create an English version of France. This is what wins modern competitions.
The quality of the French is even more immediately relevant to England right now, because they will face whoever finishes second in this group in the likelihood they win the group. There had previously been a sense that it doesn’t matter whether Southgate’s side get Germany, France or Portugal in the last 16, and that they’ll have to face them sooner or later.
This game showed that to be a fallacy.
France are a level above. If you want a long tournament, you really want to avoid them. That might be your best chance against them, too, in a one-off after a month of football.
France look capable of cruising there, though, because they are a combination of an all-terrain four-by-four and a Ferrari.
They have it all. They look again set to win it all.
We’ve now seen every team at Euro 2020. We’ve seen no one as good as France.
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