Many TV viewers in France awoke to a shock on Thursday morning, belatedly discovering that the world champions had lost 1-0 Tunisia having turned off thinking that Antoine Griezmann had levelled the game. The broadcaster TF1 cut to an advert break after Griezmann’s shot deep into stoppage time crossed the line, believing the final whistle had sounded in the aftermath, and prompting millions of viewers to switch off.
Instead the referee, Matthew Conger, was belatedly called to consult the pitchside monitor by VAR and contentiously ruled out the late strike because of Griezmann’s offside position earlier in play. But TF1 had left its audience with footage of France celebrations and Tunisian heartbreak, continuing tournament coverage with its World Cup Mag show rather than returning to the stadium.
Ultimately, the 1-0 defeat did not change much because France still finished top of Group D and a Tunisia victory was not enough for the north African side to overtake Australia in second place. However a much-changed France losing their unbeaten record in Qatar still came as a surprise to many fans.
TF1 issued an apology for its hasty exit on social media, and on the Mag show the journalist Grégoire Margotton explained the channel’s error to the viewers that remained. “We were convinced that it was over, everyone was going back to the locker room,” Margotton said. “It took a long, long time and Mr Conger, the New Zealand referee, went to consult the VAR. He was told after a very long time that there was an offside by Antoine Griezmann and that goal was therefore disallowed.”
Meanwhile, France manager Didier Deschamps stood by his decision to drastically reshuffle his team for their final Group D game against Tunisia on Wednesday, stressing that key players had recharged their batteries for the knockout phase.
Deschamps made nine changes from the team who snatched the qualification for the last 16 with a 2-1 win against Denmark, with notably Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann starting on the bench in what ended with a 1-0 defeat.
While the defending champions were almost guaranteed top spot in Group D, there is almost no positive to draw from a match in which they were largely overwhelmed with only Ibrahima Konate showing his talent at centre back.
“We have 24 players. The 24 won the first two games and the 24 lost the third one,” Deschamps told a news conference. It will serve us for the next game. Some of the players will have recharged the batteries.”
France will face Poland at 3pm on Sunday in the last 16.
“There were reasons for the players to be rested. Games are now 100-minutes long. These are my choices, and I stand by them. Regardless of the result, we would have to play in four days,” he explained.
Marcus Thuram was expected to start but Deschamps said he was one of the players who had a “problem”.
Benjamin Pavard, who produced a woeful display in the first game, a 4-1 win over Australia, was also thought to start at right back but Deschamps gave Axel Disasi his first cap instead.
“I’ve had discussions with him and he is not in the right conditions, the right frame of mind. You will tell me it’s physical, it’s psychological... he was not helped by his performance in the first game, I made this choice,” Deschamps said, refusing to elaborate.
“I know I haven’t put the players in the best conditions but we can’t reach all our goals and the main thing is to qualify for the last 16.” - Guardian/Agencies