How France Conquered the World ! — Part 1
So after 31 Days and 64 Matches, in 12 breathtaking venues, across 11 fabulous Russian cities, the World has a new Champion. France, out-performed every opponent as they were crowned Champions for the second time. Frankly, for a World Cup that was dominated by the underdogs, France stood the only footballing superpower and rightly so.
The French squad comprised mainly of the most talented young players, playing for some of the World’s best clubs. After being eliminated, at the Quarterfinal stage at the hands of Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Didier Deschamps started a reconstruction of the squad, adding young flair to the experience and with the World Cup still 4 years ahead, the prime motive was a successful Euro 2016 as hosts.
France started the 2016 Euros on a high, playing fluent, stylish, fast paced football, showcasing the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and a Midfield enforcer in N’Golo Kante, a revelation for Leicester City and then for Chelsea, winning back to back Premier League titles. Paul Pogba, a superstar at Juventus, joined Manchester United in search for glory, but Jose Mourinho’s defensive tactics and him playing in a CM role meant Paul Pogba’s attacking prowess was limited, though for France his more advanced role gave his attacking talent more exposure leading to a flurry of top class performances, cementing his position in the starting line-up.
In attack, France had Antoine Griezmann, the man who had already made a name for himself at Real Sociedad which earned him a move to Atletico Madrid, rejecting the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea to play under Simeone. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud was already a star in and around Arsenal, though at times being criticized by pundits for not scoring enough goals, but just like the former Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger, Didier Deschamps knew what Olivier Giroud would bring to the attack.
After a fabulous season with West Ham United in the Premier League that earned him a call-up to the squad, Dimitri Payet found himself in no time in a starting position for France at the Euros, known for his dribbles and Freekicks, Dimitri Payet quickly became a fan favourite, his partnership with Griezmann and Giroud quickly making the headlines.
So, a squad was ready to take on the Europe’s mightiest, the likes of Spain, the defending European Champions, The World Champions Germany, The sturdy Italians looking for revenge and redemption under Antonio Conte. The Summer was set for a fascinating contest between the best. Lightning fast counter-attacks, terrific defensive performances and a fabulous fan support all lead to an exciting encounter as France cruised to the finals, with Antoine Griezmann scoring goals for fun, once in the group stages, twice against Republic of Ireland in the Round of 16 and again in the Quarterfinals against Iceland, he also scored twice against the World Champions to eliminate them at the Semi-final stage.
France met Portugal in the Final, who had somehow crawled their way to the big stage and now had to face the might of the glittering France. Portugal though, in Cristiano Ronaldo had one of the most decorated footballers’ of this generation(other being Messi), but were given very little chance against the hosts.
Like most underdogs, Fernando Santos set up Portugal to defend against the French attack, frustrating them & standing some chance on the counter-attack. Portugal lost Ronaldo to injury early on, meaning they had to spend the rest of the 75 mins and possibly more without their star skipper.
But Portugal held on as they did in their previous games and took the game to extra-time, the Portuguese fans had now started to believe that maybe they can win it. Eder took a fabulous low shot, right into the bottom corner, beyond the outstretched hand of Hugo Lloris in the 109th minute which was enough for Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to clinch a major title. A tactical victory more than anything, but France had something to learn from this, a mistake, tactically which they would’ve had to rectify if they were to get their hands on the bigger prize 2 years later in Russia.
France had lost the battle, but the War was far from over as Russia prepared for a footballing battle that would rewrite history.