France 1 Peru 0
If there was even a solitary a French fan in the stands here in the Yekaterinburg Arena they will have left happy with the result but concerned by the way their side had to dig in to get it. The day, though, will be more vividly remembered by and for the Peruvians who packed the stadium, shook it to its foundations and played their hearts out. Still, they had them broken in the end.
The winners left sure of their place in the last 16 but Ricardo Gareca’s side are going home and all they can hope to do now is avoid doing so without a victory as the did when they last made an appearance in the competition 36 years ago.
“We gave it all,” Gareca said afterwards, “and we will do it again so as to finish the tournament better but also to give all of our supporters at least one win to celebrate before they go home.”
The South Americans had felt they had been the better side against Denmark and unlucky to lose. They might seek to console themselves by making the same case here and there was certainly a bit of misfortune about the goal that decided the game. But for all their tremendous effort, France had the edge when it came to quality when and where it really mattered.
For a while, you thought it would be their attacking play that paved the way to a French victory but that faded as the match wore on. And as the Peruvians chased the game with rare spirit it was actually the way France defended through a tough second period, in which they essentially limited their increasingly anxious opponents to a handful of long range efforts, the best of which clattered the outside of Hugo Lloris’ angle before flying wide, that ultimately saw them through.
"I saw Spain have to defend after taking the lead in their game against Iran," insisted Didier Deschamps when asked why his side hadn't been capable of pushing on and winning by a bigger margin, "so it you were looking for a four or five nil score then don't come to the World Cup because you won't get it." Well, maybe outside of the opening day at least.
“We had to defend and defend and defend,” he acknowledged. “For 25 minutes we were defending too much, even if we were doing it well. That was down to the pressure we were put under by Peru. For almost half an hour we lost the ball a lot, we were not able to link up; that’s down to them being very god opponents. We didn’t give anything up but obviously it would be better if we had been able to attack more.”
Clearly his hope was that even as they came under pressure his players would be able to hit Peru on the break but never quite came off, at least until the closing minutes when they had a couple of half chances to make the game safe.
The French had, it had initially seemed, been improved by the return of Olivier Giroud with Antoine Griezmann used behind him and Paul Pogba partnering N'golo Kante in a defensive midfield role. But this formation was scarcely intended to enable them to grab a goal then defend it to the death. Still, Deschamps insisted, "today's system worked well today".
It had looked set to work much better in the immediate aftermath of a goal which Kylian Mbappé tapped home from a couple of yards after Giroud’s low shot had been deflected, fortuitously from a French perspective, by Alberto Rodriguez over his own goalkeeper and into the path of the PSG striker who became his country’s youngest ever scorer at a major tournament.
The French swiftly threatened to add a second with a wonderful break out of defence, then settled into their best spell in the lead up to half-time, a period in which they managed to exert some real control over the proceedings. Gareca then gambled on changing his side’s approach with two substitutions, the key one being the introduction of striker Jefferson Farfan for Yoshimar Yotun, a defensive midfielder; suddenly it was a different game, one in which the French were wholly incapable of doing much more than keeping their opponents a safe distance.
Pedro Aquino was the one to hit the woodwork but Hugo Lloris, having made one decent save from Paolo Guerrero in the first half, wasn’t to be seriously troubled again.
“A lot of credit is due to the French,” observed Gareca. “They did a lot of great work in defence, it wasn’t just that we came up short. But perhaps we could have been a little more mobile in defence and we had opportunities to score, clear cut opportunities; in the first game we even had a penalty, and in this sort of situation you have to take the clear cut opportunities that you create”.
France: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Lucas, Pogba (Nzonzi 89), Kante, Mbappe-Lottin (Dembele 75), Griezmann (Fekir 80), Matuidi, Giroud. Booked: Matuidi, Pogba.
Peru: Gallese, Advincula, Ramos, Rodriguez (Santamaria 46), Trauco, Aquino, Yotun (Farfan 46), Carrillo, Cueva (Ruidiaz 82), Flores, Guerrero. Booked: Guerrero, Aquino.
Referee: Mohammed Abdulla Hassan (United Arab Emirates).