France can no longer successfully defend their Nations League crown after Monday’s 1-0 home defeat to Croatia left the finals beyond their reach.
Didier Deschamps’ side had flattered to deceive in their first three matches this month, losing once and drawing the other two, and they were no better against a stubborn Croatia at the Stade de France.
They proved to be their own worst enemy with a needless early penalty concession that Luka Modric took full advantage of five minutes in.
The hosts’ performance was full of bluster but lacked subtlety, with clear-cut chances difficult to come by on another disappointing day for the reigning world champions.
Ibrahima Konate was the guilty party for the penalty as the Liverpool defender clumsily tripped Ante Budimir and, after a long VAR review, Modric just about squeezed his kick past Mike Maignan.
19 – France in their first halves in this edition of the Nations League:
8 shots on target
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 13, 2022
The game became frantic as Les Bleus desperately searched for a leveller, but Ivica Ivusic was not forced into a meaningful save until early in the second half when substitute Aurelien Tchouameni shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It was a sign of renewed purpose, however, and Kylian Mbappe saw a 30-yard strike go agonisingly wide a few moments later.
Yet, Croatia ended up creating the better chances in the closing stages, with Lovro Majer and Nikola Vlasic forcing saves from Maignan as the visitors gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final loss.
What does it mean? Avoiding relegation humiliation now France’s objective
Regardless of how important you regard the Nations League to be, the world champions suffering relegation would be nothing short of embarrassing – yet that is a distinct possibility.
Whether their struggles this month have been down to general fatigue at the end of a long season, Deschamps’ tinkering, or a combination of both is unclear, but for the coach’s sake you hope the fact France can no longer qualify for the finals comes as a massive wake-up call with the World Cup is just over five months away.
They sit bottom of Group A1, seven points behind leaders Denmark after they beat Austria 2-0.
Stanisic stands firm
France boast great quality out wide, particularly with Mbappe. The Paris Saint-Germain star gave Josip Stanisic plenty to think about, but the Croatia right-back performed admirably, making a match-high six tackles.
Benzema unable to inspire
It was a frustrating game for Real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema. You would have been forgiven for not realising he was on the pitch in the first half, and in the end he finished the game with only one shot and a single key pass.
France will pick up their Nations League campaign – and the bid to avoid relegation – at home to Austria on September 22. Croatia play group leaders Denmark the same day.