In the French team, qualified for the quarter-finals, the floor is given to the defense

William Saliba and Mike Maignan celebrate France’s victory over Belgium in the round of 16 of the Euro in Düsseldorf, July 1, 2024. HASSAN AMMAR / AP

At the final whistle, William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano could puff out their chests and high-five each other, feeling a sense of accomplishment. The duo impressed once again on Monday, July 1, during the French team’s success against Belgium in the round of 16 of Euro 2024 (1-0). But rather than going to celebrate the qualification at the foot of the Merkur Spiel-Arena stand in Düsseldorf, where the French supporters are, the two defenders turned on their heels. No question of forgetting to congratulate Mike Maignan, alone in front of the Belgian kop who is still ruminating on the three saves made by the French goalkeeper in this match.

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The French team’s first four games in the competition – more than half of the way if they go all the way – have quickly made it clear that it is not in attack that they will make their mark on this tournament. Their attacking players are astonishingly clumsy and it was thanks to an own goal by Belgian Jan Vertonghen that Didier Deschamps’ team won against the Red Devils.

If this offensive inefficiency and the quality of the Blues’ game fuel the headlines, the solidity displayed by the French defenders should be highlighted. “They are confident”replied Didier Deschamps soberly, while Belgium will keep a bitter memory of this tricolor rearguard.

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The Red Devils’ attackers offered a tough challenge to the blue defense, between the brainy Kevin De Bruyne, the explosive Jérémy Doku and the powerful Romelu Lukaku. This squad did not destabilize the Blues too much and, when it succeeded, Mike Maignan reigned supreme in his goal, repelling all the opposing attempts, as he has done brilliantly since the start of the Euro.

Concerns at the start of preparation

After four matches, the French goalkeeper has only conceded once, against Poland, a penalty scored by Robert Lewandowski. And even then, he had stopped the Polish captain’s first attempt. For the first time since the 1998 World Cup, the French team has only conceded one goal after four matches in a major international competition; and this figure is as much good news as it is a surprise.

At the start of the preparation in Clairefontaine (Yvelines), at the end of May, the defensive sector was one of those that raised the most questions. Mike Maignan was returning from injury – he also played the first two friendlies with stitches on the little finger of his left hand – while the two central defenders expected to start, Ibrahima Konaté and Dayot Upamecano, were coming out of a difficult period with their respective clubs.

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