The French team ran out of air this Monday in the blistering heat of Split (1-1) against Luka Modric’s Croatia and his hostile crowd. Without Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema or their captain Hugo Lloris, all sitting on a bench of five-star substitutes, the Blues thought they had the perfect operation after Adrien Rabiot’s opener (52′).
But a penalty awarded by Jonathan Clauss and converted by Andrej Kramaric (83′) made them fall back on their insecurities three days after the defeat to Denmark (2-1), which they had already conceded at the end of the game after faults. And without the masterly parades of Mike Maignan (71′, 87′) Didier Deschamps’ men would have left the Balkans with a zero point. However, with one point in two games, France is nevertheless facing a serious challenge to qualify for the “Final 4”. It will be necessary to react in Austria on Friday before the Croats are welcomed for the return leg on June 13.
In Vienna on Friday, the atmosphere may not be as overheated as that of Poljud Stadium, Hajduk Split’s open-air den, housed between the Mosor massif and the Adriatic Sea. This framework, unprecedented for France, gave ideas to the coach Didier Deschamps, who set out to “raise his head” and to preserve the organisms tested by the heat and a tiring season.
At kick-off, he sent only two world champions, Benjamin Pavard and Presnel Kimpembe, and only one survivor of the defeat to the Danes, Aurélien Tchouameni. Mbappe, still embarrassed on one knee, didn’t even warm up. Even the tireless Antoine Griezmann was spared from kick-off, a first in 22 games, before coming into play in the final half hour. But after eight games in a row in 3-5-2, the most unexpected adjustment involved the tactical schedule, with the return of the system from the 2018 World Finals: seven players with a defensive vocation and a defense with four.
Acclaimed Modric, precious Kimpembe
If the aim of the evening was to regain solidity after the fouls against the Danes, it was only partially achieved, with an end to forget and multiple inaccuracies at the start of the game, which could have been very expensive to be. Even Tchouameni, despite his 22 years usually sober and precise, was clumsy by losing a few balloons, like Pavard and William Saliba. Until the penalty kick, the Blues systematically found a way to erase their mistakes and make up for their blunders, thanks largely to the vigilance of their evening captain, Kimpembe. The Parisian was invaluable, like his former PSG partner Moussa Diaby, very available and close to opening the score with a shot from Dominik Livakovic (39′).
On the other hand, the lively songs of the 30,000 Croatian supporters also led the “Vatreni” in the recapture after suffering a humiliation at home on Friday, against Austria (3-0). The local attraction was logically called Luka Modric. The Real Madrid playmaker, recently crowned European champions, started his evening with a lovely hug with Benzema, before receiving a huge tribute, tifo in support, for his 150th roster.
He even nearly scored on a long shot, stopped by Maignan. And he could enjoy the equalizer twelve minutes later from the sidelines, along the entire stadium, happy as after a win.
Referee: mr. Guida (ITA)
GOALS. Croatia: Kramaric (83); France: Rabiot (52′).
Warnings. Croatia: Vida (21′); France: Kimpembe (85′).
CROATIA: Livakovic – Juranovic, Erlic, Vida, Barisic – Modric (cap) (Susic 79′), Kovacic (Vlasic 79′), Brozovic – Majer (Pasalic 63′), Budimir (Kramaric 69′), Brekalo (Orsic 63′). Coach: Zlatko Dalic.
FRANCE : Maignan – Pavard, Saliba, Kimpembe (cap), Digne – Diaby (Clauss 79′), Tchouameni (Kamara 62′), Guendouzi, Rabiot – Nkunku – Ben Yedder (Griezmann 62′). Coach: Didier Deschamps.