Denmark have been France’s bogey team in recent years, but Kylian Mbappe had other ideas in their World Cup clash at Stadium 974, scoring twice to secure a 2-1 victory that makes it two wins from two for the reigning champions.
Denmark had beaten France twice in 2022 and looked to be on course for a draw before Mbappe struck for a second time in the 86th minute. Early on, his opening goal had been canceled out by an Andreas Christensen header.
Dominic Fifield, Carl Anka and Liam Tharme analyze the key talking points…
This is Mbappe’s tournament for the taking
Kylian Mbappe will not be quelled. There were moments where the Danes, a team whose resilience has blunted these opponents regularly in recent years, conjured ways to deal with his direct running in isolation, but they were always laced with a certain panic. Christensen’s pull back as the striker threatened to charge through the middle on Antoine Griezmann’s pass midway through the first half summed that up. Joachim Andersen took to body-checking or wrestling him down at times before he could build up a head of steam, usually off the ball. The officials’ gaze tended to be directed elsewhere at the time.
But, just as Australia had discovered in the first game in the group, teams will struggle to keep him out forever. That turn and searing sprint just before the hour-mark, spinning away from Andersen, was a reminder of his constant menace. The Crystal Palace defender initially tried to grapple him down but the striker was too slippery to grasp. He tried again but, by then, Mbappe was away. Olivier Giroud’s poor run actually ended up choking that effort but, four minutes later, the combination between Mbappe and Theo Hernandez was more slickly constructed, the striker’s finish flicking up off Christensen to flummox Kasper Schmeichel. His movement for the winner, gambling to attack the space at Rasmus Kristensen’s back and bundle the ball in, was sharper than anything his markers could muster.
In a tournament where some of the world’s elite players have struggled to make a proper impact to date, Mbappe has hit the ground running — and at a pace with which few defenders can contend. Four years on, unsurprisingly perhaps, he appears a more complete player even than the World Cup winner of 2018, and a figure stolen by that penalty miss at the European Championships.
Qatar is his stage.
What now for Denmark?
The Danes will spend the next few days fretting over their position in the table but, in essence, their task has hardly changed. They may have held the Indian sign over the French in recent times, beating them twice in the UEFA Nations League this year, but they probably always envisaged having to defeat Australia in next week’s final fixture to progress to the knockout stages. They will cling to the positives from this display, even in rare defeat to the French, as cause for optimism.
Theirs was a resilience which, at times, frustrated Didier Deschamps’ team. They did create some fine opportunities, too, from Kasper Dolberg’s miss at the far post to Jesper Lindstrom’s shot that forced a fine block from Hugo Lloris. They will have been heartened, too, by their ability to force parity even against the reigning world champions. That prowess at set pieces which forced them briefly level — demonstrated by Christian Eriksen’s delivery, Andersen’s flick and Andreas Christensen’s emphatic finish — may be their best route to unpicking the Socceroos and guaranteeing a presence in the last 16.
How Kasper Hjulmand must crave a natural finisher at the tip of his team, though, to complement all the industrious effort and flashes of creative quality. Regardless, they will be ready for Australia next week. This can still end up a blip rather than something more critical.
Christensen had no choice but to foul Mbappe
Mbappe’s mercurial pace and finishing ability make him something of an attacking cheat code. He can get on the end of passes played in behind from a starting position five yards behind a defender, situations in which other mortal forwards would need to stand much closer to the defensive line.
During Euro 2020, the former England left-back Ashley Cole outlined for The Athletic all of the little things a defender needs to do to stop someone like Mbappe, breaking down hip movement, running on your toes rather than on your heels and plenty more.
The Denmark centre-back Christensen didn’t do much of that when Mbappe was played through in the first half. The Barcelona defender miscalculated, got into a footrace with Mbappe and (correctly) recognized it was better to risk things with the match official than with one of the best attackers in the world.
Christensen got beat and decided to cheat. It was cynical, with little attempt to play the ball, but also the best thing he could do in that situation.
Dembele is putting all the pieces together
The €105 million transfer fee Barcelona paid Borussia Dortmund for Ousmane Dembele in 2017 cast a long shadow over the Frenchman. His talent has always been known but many feared the winger would never quite put the pieces together. Spanish newspapers have been filled with hundreds of words on why Dembele would never fulfill his talent: he got injured too often and stretched too little. He played video games too much and enjoyed a McDonald’s as well.
Yet the talent remained. In 2022, Dembele gets chalk on his boots, puts defenders on skates and delivers end product. His work as a more orthodox winger on the right of Deschamps’ 4-2-3-1 offers balance to Mbappe’s forays inside from the left. Together, the pair gave France a frightening punch on the transition.
Ousame Dembele’s first half by numbers vs. Denmark:
100% tackles won
81% pass accuracy
3 ground duels won
3 key passes
2 crosses completed
2 long balls completed
1 dribble completed
Showed some moments of brilliance. ✨ pic.twitter.com/hDIdFIVZYS
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 26, 2022
Lionel Messi was thought to be fond of Dembele. The Argentine trusted him with the ball, knowing Dembele can find a way to break defenses and open spaces in a manner few wingers can. This World Cup feels like the beginning of a prophecy being fulfilled. Ousmane Dembele — one of the most expensive players of all time — has arrived.
Low-scoring first halves
There are a fair few contenders for blandest first half of the tournament already and France-Denmark was another opening 45 minutes that ended goalless. France dominated proceedings and had 12 shots to Denmark’s two, but did little to really open up the Danish defense before the break.
Most teams in Qatar look to be adopting defense-first approaches with and without possession, often focusing on defending deeper in a compact block rather than pressing high and looking to keep possession rather than being incisive.
This could be expected more in the opening round of fixtures where teams need to not lose games more than they need to win them, but even in second-round matches it has taken until the second half for lots of them to come alive.
France and Denmark is the 23rd game to be played at the World Cup and the 11th to have been 0-0 at half-time. The record for 0-0 full-time scores in a single World Cup is seven. With five already at this tournament, that looks on course to be broken.
Only 19 of the 56 goals in Qatar have been scored in the first half (34 percent), continuing the steady decline in the proportion of first-half goals across the last three tournaments.
The Hernandez-Mbappe combination comes good again
France have been plagued by injuries in 2022 but Lucas Hernandez’s knock against Australia may have made way for the attacking combination of the tournament.
His younger brother Theo replaced him in the first half of that match and repeatedly combined with Mbappe down the left wing. Theo Hernandez’s overlapping and forward-thinking naturally suits the right-footed Mbappe, who wants to drift inside and play in central areas as more of a No 10.
Three of the seven chances created by Theo Hernandez in the opening two games have been for Mbappe.
And this pairing came alive to create the opening goal against Denmark. Hernandez played forward into Mbappe and underlapped him to then cut it back for the forward to put France in front.
It had to be him… 😏
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 26, 2022
(Top photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)