Soccer-Batteries charged for last 16, Deschamps says after Tunisia defeat

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group D - Tunisia v France - Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar - November 30, 2022 France coach Didier Deschamps REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) - France coach Didier Deschamps stood by his decision to drastically reshuffle his team for their final Group D game against Tunisia on Wednesday, stressing that key players had recharged their batteries for the knockout phase.

Deschamps made nine changes from the team who snatched the qualification for the last 16 with a 2-1 win against Denmark, with notably Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann starting on the bench in what ended with a 1-0 defeat.

While the defending champions were almost guaranteed top spot in Group D, there is almost no positive to draw from a match in which they were largely overwhelmed with only Ibrahima Konate showing his talent at centre back.

"We have 24 players. The 24 won the first two games and the 24 lost the third one," Deschamps told a news conference.

"It will serve us for the next game. Some of the players will have recharged the batteries."

France next face a team from Group C, which features Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland.

"There were reasons for the players to be rested. Games are now 100-minutes long. These are my choices, and I stand by them. Regardless of the result, we would have to play in four days," he explained.

Marcus Thuram was expected to start but Deschamps said he was one of the players who had a "problem".

Benjamin Pavard, who produced a woeful display in the first game, a 4-1 win over Australia, was also thought to start at right back but Deschamps gave Axel Disasi his first cap instead.

"I've had discussions with him and he is not in the right conditions, the right frame of mind. You will tell me it's physical, it's psychological... he was not helped by his performance in the first game, I made this choice," Deschamps said, refusing to elaborate.

"I know I haven't put the players in the best conditions but we can't reach all our goals and the main thing is to qualify for the last 16."

France, however, thought they had grabbed a last-gasp equaliser when second-half substitute Griezmann found the back of the net eight minutes into stoppage time.

Referee Matthew Conger seemed to signal the end of the game before checking whether the goal was valid through a video review - a decision that Deschamps questioned.

"He had restarted the game and he had blown the final whistle. Is it within the regulations ? I'm asking the question," said Deschamps, who hoped the game would also show the usual substitutes what it takes to shine at a World Cup.

"We were too timid, not aggressive enough, there were technical errrors. Those who played today have realised what the highest level is."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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