|Kylian Mbappe holds his head in his hands after his decisive penalty miss against Switzerland. AFP/VNA Photo|
Football, it turns out, is still played on grass rather than paper.
That may be news to the Didier Deschamps’ France, who were knocked out of Euro 2020 yesterday by Switzerland on penalties after a pulsating 120 minutes of play ended in a 3-3 draw.
While Switzerland are by no means international minnows, pundits worldwide had tipped the French to progress from the last-16 tie with relative ease due to their status as a far superior side on paper.
It seems the French players had been listening to those pundits and thought they could simply turn up to the National Arena in Bucharest and would be waved though to the quarter-finals.
They played in fits and starts, and with nowhere near the level of cohesion or team spirit the Swiss displayed, acting instead as a collection of brilliant individuals, but individuals all the same in a team sport.
The coach Deschamps will come in for plenty of criticism as the post-mortem is conducted from Paris to Nice, not least for his baffling decision to start with a back three with midfielder Adrien Rabiot at left-back.
The world champions’ success has been based on solidity and consistency at the back mixed with potent attacking threats, but for most of the first half they looked rudderless and confused as to what it was exactly their coach wanted from them.
But perhaps most deserving of the barbs sure to be thrown at him is the team’s star player; Kylian Mbappe.
The 22-year-old is prodigiously talented, of that there is no doubt, but his conduct on and off the pitch throughout this tournament, one he was tipped to light up, has left plenty to be desired.
First there was the very public spat with fellow French forward Olivier Giroud and reports that Mbappe was refusing to pass to the target man.
Perhaps that could have been forgiven if the Paris Saint-Germain striker had delivered on the pitch but with zero goals and a solitary assist to his name throughout the tournament, he failed miserably to make an impact at the start of what could be a crucial summer for the young forward.
That he missed what turned out to be the crucial penalty in the shootout was a fitting exit from the Euro 2020 stage for Mbappe.
He later lamented on Instagram that a sleepless night would be ahead.
“I'm sorry for this penalty miss. I wanted to help the team but failed. Getting to sleep will be difficult, but unfortunately it is the ups and downs of this sport that I love so much,” he wrote to his 53 million followers.
Deschamps attempted to defend the young forward and claimed the French squad was still united, but it was a defence that will ring as hollow to many.
“Kylian takes responsibility, he feels guilty, but he shouldn’t,” Deschamps said. “The squad is united, it always has been.”
Now Mbappe, Deschamps and France have plenty of time to ponder their futures this summer.
With transfer rumours swirling and links to Real Madrid and Liverpool, will Mbappe spread his wings and leave France? And is Deschamps’ largely negative football really the best way for France to attempt to defend their World Cup title in 18 months?
Those questions will be answered on the pitch and not paper, as they should be. VNS