SOCCER

France must be better than this

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Ahead of the Euro 2022 quarter-finals, France’s showdown with the Netherlands looked to be the most exciting game on paper. France are probably the second best team in the world, give or take your opinion on Sweden. The Netherlands, meanwhile, were the defending Euro champions and vice-world champion 2019. According to FIFA calculations, the last quarter-final of the round had the best combination of rankings: France is currently ranked third and the Netherlands fourth.

Anything less than an absolute one-game banger would have disappointed on Saturday. Luckily for viewers, France did their best to drown out the game against their orange-clad opponents, creating unnecessary but welcome drama. Luckily for France, however, they pulled themselves together long enough to score a game winner, VAR-assisted penalty deep into extra time and pass the Euro quarter-finals for the very first time.

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There is no coating to do here: France should have won this match by much more than a late penalty. The French side were absolutely dominant in attack, constantly stopping the Dutch goal throughout the first 90 minutes of this game. The numbers back it up: while the Netherlands only took one shot on target out of nine total attempts, France had an almost hilarious 33 shots and 13 on target. The Dutch defense had no response to the French attack, beyond prayers and last-minute clearances, like that of Stefanie van der Gragt in the 37th minute which, one way or another, prevented Melvine Malard’s shot. van der Gragt was forced to make three goal-line clearances on Saturday, which really shows how much control France had in this game.

The main reason the game went into extra time, however, was that France couldn’t get past Daphne Van Domselaar, who had one night, saving 10 shots on Saturday and was only beaten by Ève Périsset at the 102nd. minute:

Even with a keeper standing on their heads, France shouldn’t have struggled as much as they did, especially with the strength of their defence. On the other side of the pitch, Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock Bathy stopped the tournament’s best remaining striker as Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema couldn’t do anything.

Part of that was the defensive work of the French backline, although another and perhaps greater part was Miedema returning from having COVID-19; she looked rusty and out of sorts, especially as the game dragged into overtime. Apart from Miedema, the Dutch attack didn’t do much, stopping every time they got close to the French box. The tally of expected goals was completely lopsided: the Netherlands only scored 0.51 xG, against 4.33 for France. That kind of differential often leads to more than a scrappy 1-0 win, but that’s what France got on Saturday.

The Blues will have to correct their finishing flaws in the future, because the competition will not get any easier. While the Netherlands are the best opponent that France will face, at least on paper, the road to a first Euro title passes through hell and waves. Next up for the French is Germany, who coolly beat neighboring rivals Austria 2-0 on Thursday. The day is important there: Germany had it easier than France and also have two extra days to rest ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final in Milton Keynes.

If France overtake the Germans for a first appearance in the Euro final, the task will only be more difficult: either they will have to face second-placed Sweden or the English hosts, who have beaten their own difficult opponent in Spain . All of these teams can, and perhaps should, believe they are the best left, but France will probably take the most convincing. After all, the French showed on Saturday that they can dominate even the best teams and still need luck to advance. Maybe luck will turn against Germany or in the final, but such a good team shouldn’t have to rely on luck at all.

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