It will be France and not England who face Morocco in Wednesday’s second semi-final after goals from Aurélien Tchouaméni and Oliver Giroud helped them to a 2-1 victory over Gareth Southgate’s side. The match was closely contested throughout and but for a surprisingly missed penalty from Harry Kane it might have been England who marched on to the semi-finals. But such narrow margins decide the knockout ties and the Three Lions will have to wait another four years to try to win football’s top prize once again.
Here’s how the game was won and lost on one dramatic night at Al Bayt Stadium.
All eyes were on Kylian Mbappe on France’s left wing and he started the match crouched as if ready to sprint for 100 metres. But the flow of play came to the other side of the pitch, with the ball heading in the direction of Ousmane Dembele. Even when Mbappé was on the ball, he tended to slide inside and use his teammates. Unsurprisingly, Aurélien Tchouaméni broke the deadlock with finishing an open move from the right wing. Mbappé carried the ball across the pitch to Dembele, who provided the assist for an excellent long-range shot. England also tried to attack on the right flank. Bukayo Saka took the ball and came in for a rough deal. But it was also the area from which England created chances after falling behind. Even when it came to getting the ball just inside Saka’s wing, there was room to shoot on goal.
Laughter leads the counterattack
England sides of previous eras collapsed after falling behind to goals like Tchouaméni’s, but Gareth Southgate’s players, after a quick confrontation as France celebrated, held on and started creating chances. Most of their play came through Declan Rice, who sat in front of the defense and dictated the pace of play for England. He showed a range of passes, widening the ball to the wings or keeping possession when a shorter ball was on. He was positive with his distribution and it was a mature performance, 17 months after the disappointment of being substituted in the final of the European Championship. The England midfield were working on a plan, with Jordan Henderson on Rice’s right helping Kyle Walker guard Kylian Mbappe, also making himself available when England pushed forward.
Kane pushes forward
Harry Kane uses his in-match radar to gauge where he can affect the game, which can lead him to play in his deepest role as a no. 10. But he clearly felt he could surpass Dayot Upamecano and play on the shoulder of Bayern Munich’s centre-back. He made up for England’s best passes of the game, with Kane dismissed and his goal was saved by Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris, who was right to read that a goal would be chipped. Later, Kane also circled Upamecano and was unfortunate not to take a penalty, with a clear broadside just on the edge of the box and getting sent to the Var. It was also Kane who forced Lloris to save with a powerful shot from the edge of the box . While Upamecano had a key role in France’s first-half goal, he also looked like the centre-back England would target for a mistake.
Alarm bell for France
Buoyed by a volley that demanded a spectacular save from Lloris, Jude Bellingham was increasingly influential in the second half. He was carrying the ball forward and breaking lines for England, with his last few runs into enemy territory causing problems for France. It’s still amazing that he makes such mature decisions on the ball for a teenager. He timings it right to advance into space, but will keep possession and find a teammate in close proximity. At halftime, the veterans weren’t the first to approach the referee and complain about the trip to Kane that could have been a penalty. He was the youngest member of the team doing the case. When Theo Hernandez’s foul led to a penalty, Bellingham was saying to the referee “how’s that not a red card?”
Old fashioned ball in the box
For all the intricate play in midfield and speed down the wings, France’s second goal came from an old-fashioned cross from the wing, curved into the uncertainty area for the opposition. England had received a warning moments earlier when Dembele nodded across Olivier Giroud’s path and his wide finish produced an excellent save from Jordan Pickford. But from a corner in the next stage of the game, the ball was returned to Antoine Griezmann, who had time to deliver the perfect cross between Harry Maguire and John Stones. It was the kind of delivery Giroud nurtured throughout his career and the most prolific goalscorer in France’s history added another to his tally.