At this point, France’s commitment to demonstrating the unrivaled depth of its resources has long since drawn on the past. It is now crossing significant boundaries.
Before the start of the World Cup, France coach Didier Deschamps had already lost five players to injury – most of them likely starters. Deschamps didn’t blink. Here are five more like them.
Within days, a sixth player, Lucas Hernandez, fell by the wayside. Deschamps – a man with a serious, brooding demeanor tempered only slightly by a shy, shy laugh – didn’t even pretend to be flustered. Well done. If you want to play it that way, he will become the first manager in half a century to retain the Men’s World Cup despite being a player. He did not bother to summon a replacement.
None of this stopped France’s quiet progress to a second successive final. But to say that those departures did not affect Deschamps’ team in Qatar is not entirely true. While the French didn’t break a sweat on their way to the quarter-finals, they did worry against both England and Morocco. In fact, the defending champion was on the back foot, with long stretches in both games.
France won the 2018 World Cup without a thrill; The team always gave the feeling of having another gear. It seems to have reached its peak, removing several key players.
Against Morocco, France lost two more players: Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano both contracted the virus. It has been reported in France that the virus was contracted from England players during the quarter-final, although the evidence for that claim is scant. (A respiratory virus spreads throughout all the matches in Doha; usually, doctors say the air conditioning, not the diagnosis of at least one Brazilian unit, but more than a million people visited the city.)
Three more players fell victim to the virus in the days following France’s semi-final, where it originated: Raphael Varane, Ibrahim Konade and Kingsley Coman all missed training on Friday, 48 hours before the World Cup final. It’s not deep football journalism to suggest it isn’t really great.
“Obviously, it would be better if it didn’t happen,” Deschamps said Saturday, an impressively bitter comment even by his standards. “We’re dealing with it as much as possible. We’re trying to take as many precautions as we can, adapt what’s necessary and move on. France has done everything it can to mitigate the spread, isolate some players and introduce social distancing to others.
Assuming those measures work, Deschamps finds himself in an even more complicated position. All the sick players would be adamant that they could get up and play on Sunday morning. They will report to France’s medical staff that their symptoms have completely disappeared. Deschamps will hope they’re right: he wouldn’t want to go to the World Cup finals without his three first-choice central defenders.
The problem is how much he can trust the testimony of his players and their instincts. Physical exams may suggest some or all of this is sufficient to begin with, but does fatigue develop more quickly than normal? Still dealing with the aftermath of a virus, can they perform to the best of their abilities in the biggest game of their (collective) lives?
If they can’t, what alternatives does he have? France are producing players on such industrial scale these days that if they send two teams to the World Cup, each of them is capable of winning the whole thing. Now is not the best time to test that theory.
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