Euros 2024: Liberte tick, egalite tick, Kylian Mbappe ?

Rejuvenated by the election results back home, French players would be keen to give it all against Spain in the semifinal.
France's forward Kylian Mbappe,
France's forward Kylian Mbappe, (Photo | AFP)

CHENNAI: On Sunday night, members of the French squad were understandably jubilant. The news from home had come as a positive surprise. The exit polls had shown that the far right wouldn't get the keys to power in the country. Jules Kounde, Kylian Mbappe and Marcus Thuram had all urged the people of France to go out and vote against the National Rally.

Now, it's hard to decisively say whether their call to action had any sort of effect, but you could see how the result of the election affected the French team. Ibrahima Konate was a relieved man on X. Ousmane Dembele had posted a picture of him smiling on Instagram. Kounde congratulated the 'people of France' and called it a 'beautiful country' for denying the far right the right to govern. Aurelien Tchouameni called it 'the victory of the people' on X.

The prevailing sentiment was hard to miss — liberte, egalite, Mbappe.

Whatever happens against Spain on Tuesday night, what they have done in terms of helping out and mobilising voters is set in store. With their off-the-field legacy secured, the two-time European champion now aim for some legacy on the field. Like their famous predecessors (the class of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry a good 24 years ago), Mbappe & Co. can do the World Cup-Euro double.

Like some of their recent incarnations under coach Didier Deschamps, this one has been on the back of a rock-solid defence and an attack with Mbappe given a free role while the others suffer. But, unlike some of the previous international competitions, the attack hasn't been as fluent.

Sure, during their run to the global glory at the 2018 World Cup, Olivier Giroud, their record goal-scorer, didn't score a single goal. But there was a certain fluidity to their attacks. The (almost) ever-present Paul Pogba played a big role while Antoine Griezmann kept the engine oiled. Four years later, without Pogba, they managed largely thanks to Mbappe's class and Griezmann's sacrificing his attacking output as he featured in a more playmaking role further back.

This time out, they have played well within themselves but the goals haven't come. It's a bit like saying water is wet as the proof is for all to see. From the five matches they have played thus far, they haven't managed a single goal from open play (there have been two own goals and one Mbappe penalty).

However, their attacking numbers are largely there or thereabouts. Their xG is 8.1 (normally, they would have scored eight goals according to the quality of chances they have created). It shows they are on the right track with the caveat that xG need not even itself out in a month-long tournament. At the other end, the back four of Jules Kounde, Dayot Upamecano, William Saliba and Theo Hernandez with the shield of N'golo Kante have kept the door firmly shut as their xG conceded of 4.5 (Spain is 5.4, for comparison) shows. It's the best among the remaining four teams in the competition.

Against Spain, they will surely be tested because unlike some of the other sides, the Iberian nation will be on the front foot as they will look to influence it from an attacking perspective. They are an extremely vertical side and will encourage the likes of Nico Williams, Dani Olmo and Lacine Yamal to be direct with their dribbling and passing.

In that sense, France will like to play the game according to their heartbeat while Spain will like to break it open with verticality. So, it will be a battle of contrasts. On one side of the centre circle, you will have the ultimate pragmatists. Across the aisle, a principal governed by front-foot, forward-thinking football.

On Sunday, a left-wing government became a possibility for France. On Tuesday, a football-obsessed nation will again look to a Mbappe-shaped shadow on the left-wing to influence the semi-final their way.

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