Soccer-France on a tightrope as knockout phase looms


Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group D - Tunisia v France - Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar - November 30, 2022 France's Kylian Mbappe in action with Tunisia's Ellyes Skhiri REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

DOHA (Reuters) - While France's 1-0 loss to Tunisia after fielding a reserve team should have no bearing on the defending champions' future at the World Cup, their final Group D game on Wednesday showed that they are walking on a tight rope.

Les Bleus, who face Poland in the last 16 on Sunday, underperformed at the Education City stadium and only after Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele came off the bench did they pose any threat.

Griezmann even scored what he thought was an equaliser eight minutes into stoppage time, only for referee Matthew Cogan to rule the goal out for offside following a VAR review after the final whistle, triggering a complaint from the French federation.

Until then, with Deschamps having made nine changes to the team who secured their spot in the knockout phase with a 2-1 win against Denmark, France looked clueless and were overwhelmed in the midfield.

Matteo Guendouzi and Youssouf Fofana appeared well below international level and Jordan Veretout's performance was also disappointing, raising concerns that Deschamps has no backups if Aurelien Tchouameni or Adrien Rabiot were to get injured or face a suspension, even if most of the players were not fielded in their usual position.

Up front, Randal Kolo Muani had only one chance - although in his defence it was with the only good ball he was provided with - while Kingsley Coman, at some point in competition with Demebele for a spot in the starting XI, had no impact.

LACK OF 'COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE'

"I know I haven't put them in the best conditions with all these changes because they don't have a collective experience," said Deschamps.

Deschamps will also have sleepless nights to figure out what he will do if Theo Hernandez, his only proper left back, or Jules Kounde, already a second-choice right back, have to miss a game.

With Lucas Hernandez ruled out of the tournament with an injury sustained in the opening game, midfielder Eduardo Camavinga struggled at left back, while Benjamin Pavard, who could have been given a second chance on Wednesday after his poor performance against Australia, stayed on the bench because he was "not in the right frame of mind", according to Deschamps.

In central defence, Raphael Varane, with midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni the only player to start both the Denmark and Tunisia games, looked out of sync while Ibrahima Konate, who deputised for the then injured Manchester United player in the opening game, was the only one giving Deschamps some satisfaction.

The Liverpool centre back appeared a level above all his team mates, especially Varane, and it is a safe bet to say that Deschamps might consider fielding him from the start alongside Dayot Upamecano.

"Another tournament is starting now," said Deschamps - which may come as a relief to France watchers after Wednesday's performance.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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