Concerns were raised about France’s alleged lack of strength in depth after the 1-0 defeat by Tunisia in the holders’ last group game but Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Morocco eased the doubts as Les Bleus reached their second World Cup final in a row.
With top spot in the group virtually assured ahead of the Tunisia clash, coach Didier Deschamps reshuffled his team, with nine new players starting after wins against Australia and Denmark in the first two matches.
The usual substitutes were hugely disappointing overall, but Deschamps admitted he had not made their task easy as the reserve team had no collective experience.
On Wednesday, he was forced to make two changes to the team who beat Poland 3-1 in the last 16 and England 2-1 in the quarter-finals as centre back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot were suffering from colds.
Youssouf Fofana, starting for Rabiot, sometimes struggled to compensate for Kylian Mbappe’s lack of defensive work on the left flank but the AS Monaco player did the job, winning important balls and taking France forward.
In central defence, Ibrahima Konate was rock solid, after equally convincing performances against Australia and Tunisia, which could even give Deschamps a headache when he selects his starting lineup for Sunday’s final against Argentina.
While he only made one late substitution in the 2-1 victory over England, Deschamps used the bench more against Morocco.
He took striker Olivier Giroud out after 65 minutes for Marcus Thuram, who had a great impact on the left flank, pegging defenders back and leaving space for Mbappe, then playing as a lone forward.
“The coach realised that it was becoming hard to defend on that side and that’s why he sent Marcus Thuram in, so that we were the ones putting the pressure and actually blocking that flank,” said Antoine Griezmann.
The most spectacular decision, however, was to bring off Ousmane Dembele in the 78th and send Randal Kolo Muani on.
The Eintracht Frankfurt striker needed only 44 seconds to make his presence felt, benefitting from Mbappe’s trickery in the area to tap the ball home and make it 2-0.
“I usually send Kingsley (Coman) in but he was not feeling great during the afternoon,” said Deschamps.
“And I also knew that Randal has this great ability to run. I don’t want to brag about being right, but it is also a good example for the other players who have not been used a lot, they know that they can be decisive at some point.
“Our bench players are important.”