Key points to how France can win another World Cup title

Dec 16, 2022, 3:17 PM | Updated: Dec 17, 2022, 5:19 am
France's Kylian Mbappe, center, celebrates after scoring with teammate France's Ousmane Dembele, to...

France's Kylian Mbappe, center, celebrates after scoring with teammate France's Ousmane Dembele, top, and Marcus Thuram during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Poland, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

              France's Ibrahima Konate, center, falls after colliding with Morocco's Selim Amallah in an attempt to score during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
            
              France's Kylian Mbappe, center, celebrates after scoring with teammate France's Ousmane Dembele, top, and Marcus Thuram during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Poland, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
            
              France's Ibrahima Konate jumps for the ball during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              France's Kylian Mbappe attempts a shot on goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
            
              France's Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Poland, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — France is looking to become the first country to successfully defend its World Cup title in 60 years and Didier Deschamps the first coach to guide his team to back-to-back championships since 1938.

Do they have what it takes against Argentina?

Over his decade in charge, Deschamps has proven to be smart and pragmatic and open to tactical changes as the match demands.

At his disposal he has a talented and cohesive squad led by forward Kylian Mbappé, the star of France’s World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago.

Here are some keys to repeating that feat at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.

MBAPPE’S SPEED

Mbappé’s speed, strength and shooting accuracy are proven threats and have him on track at 23 to one day become the all-time leading scorer at the World Cup. He already has added five goals in Qatar to the four he scored in Russia in 2018.

One of the defining breakout images of Mbappé at that tournament in Russia was the foot race that earned France a penalty against Argentina in the round of 16.

His blistering pace should put Argentina’s defense to the test, but he’s not the only threat. Center forward Olivier Giroud has overtaken Thierry Henry to become the leading scorer for the French national team. Giroud has scored four goals so far in Qatar.

In the semifinals, Morocco exposed how to exploit France’s left wing and Mbappé’s relative lack of protection for his defense. Argentina has a quick, attack-minded wing back in Nahuel Molina who — if he plays in a similar role to Achraf Hakimi for Morocco — can help target France left back Theo Hernández.

Deschamps reacted on Wednesday by taking off Giroud, sending Mbappé into the middle, and using substitute Marcus Thuram on the left to both attack and protect Hernández. It also eased the burden on the hard-working France midfield led by Antoine Griezmann.

Thuram and Mbappé then combined to create the goal for Randal Kolo Muani in the 2-0 victory over Morocco.

SCORE FIRST

Only once in the past 11 finals has the team that scored first failed to win the trophy. That was France in 2006.

It sounds so simple and it has worked for this generation of Les Bleus in World Cup knockout games.

France has scored first in each of the seven games it played from the round of 16 onward at the past two World Cups.

Croatia, conversely, never scored first in seven games in the same period, and eventually lost to France in the 2018 final and to Argentina in the semifinals on Tuesday.

In fact, only Argentina has led France in those seven games — for a brief period in their epic match in Kazan four years ago.

For nine minutes in the second half, France trailed 2-1 until right back Benjamin Pavard’s slicing shot — picked as goal of the tournament — equalized. France won that game 4-3 after Mbappé also scored twice.

Under Deschamps, France takes the lead and quickly tightens the defense. His team seems never to panic at having to soak up pressure, like in the second half against both England and Morocco.

France had 36% possession in the 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinals and only 34% in the semifinals, according to FIFA statistics.

That 34% figure was the same in the semifinals for Argentina, which was happy to cede the ball to Croatia, then hit hard and fast when space opened.

Argentina has not trailed in Qatar since its opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.

STAY HEALTHY

Illness is running through the France squad, as it did to Switzerland earlier in Qatar.

The three center backs France rely on — Raphaël Varane, Ibrahima Konaté and Dayot Upamecano — all have been affected this week.

Upamecano seems closest to full recovery and Varane’s status is perhaps the biggest concern as the senior partner to his less experienced teammates.

Konaté was superb against Morocco dealing with the 22 crosses into the penalty area France had to defend.

Argentina, with forwards Lionel Messi and Julián Álvarez leading the attack, prefer to run hard at the opposition defense or cross the ball with low passes into danger areas. France’s defense will need clear heads and fast feet.

Against Morocco, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris often sent the ball long, evading the pressing forwards and asking less of his defenders.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, goes up for a basket as New Orleans Pelicans forward Her...
Associated Press

Murray, Jokic help Nuggets hold off Pelicans 122-113

DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray scored 32 points, Nikola Jokic got his 16th triple-double of the season and the Denver Nuggets held off the reeling New Orleans Pelicans 122-113 on Tuesday night. Jokic finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and 15 assists as the Western Conference leaders improved to 16-0 when Jokic has a triple-double. […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) drives past Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (...
Associated Press

Griner’s return, free agency raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December with Russia has collided with free agency, creating potential travel complications for the league out of safety concerns for her. If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she’ll return to Phoenix, needs special travel […]
22 hours ago
Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton drives past Charlotte Hornets' Terry Rozier during the second half...
Associated Press

Bucks beat Hornets 124-115 for 5th consecutive victory

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton is making the most of his limited minutes as he works his way back from injuries that kept him from playing for much of the season. Middleton scored 18 points and sparked a third-quarter run that put the Milwaukee Bucks ahead for good as they beat the Charlotte Hornets 124-115 […]
22 hours ago
Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, right, slaps the ball away from Chicago Bulls forward DeMar...
Associated Press

Leonard, Powell lead Clippers past Bulls, 108-103

CHICAGO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points and Norman Powell added 27 to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Chicago Bulls 108-103 on Tuesday night. Paul George added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who’ve won six of seven. Nikola Vucevic had 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bulls, […]
22 hours ago
Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis (3) defends a shot by New York Knicks' RJ Barrett (9) during the ...
Associated Press

James has triple-double, leads Lakers past Knicks in OT

NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James will soon be the NBA’s top scorer, though that was never his focus. He’s also one of the game’s leading passers, and combining the two — possibly better than anyone ever — is what really makes him proud. “I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking […]
22 hours ago
Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) dunks the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketba...
Associated Press

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 K-State, 90-78

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Jalen Wilson remembers every slight. Every criticism. Every chip that’s landed on his shoulder. You can bet the Kansas forward remembers watching Kansas State fans storm the court after beating the Jayhawks. So with revenge on their mind, Wilson and his pals jumped on the seventh-ranked Wildcats in the rematch Tuesday […]
22 hours ago
Key points to how France can win another World Cup title