France are the blueprint for international football
Believe me, it took a lot of mental restraint not to write ‘Les Bleus-print’ in the headline, so the opening line will have to suffice.
France are heading back to the World Cup final – a third final in their last four major tournaments.
The reigning world champions return to the stage they are now so used to, having seen off 2022 sweethearts in Morocco and putting the Atlas Lions to the sword in a clinical 2-0 win at the Al Bayt Stadium.
When France took a fifth-minute lead through Theo Hernandez, there were plenty expecting them to get up to their usual tricks – sit back and take the sting out of what could have easily been a fiery game as possible.
For the most part, that is what happened.
Before Randal Kolo Muani added a second late on, Les Bleus had to weather an aggressive but ultimately impotent Moroccan storm. Hugo Lloris’ biggest save was to lightly brush an overhead kick from Jawad El Yamiq a couple of inches to his right onto the post, the North African side often too frenzied in their thinking when getting into those really dangerous areas such was France’s defensive might.
That’s not to take away from Morocco, however. They put up as much as a fight as they could and will still go down in history as the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.
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But they ran into the worthy champions, the lads with the title-belt around their collective waist, a near-immovable object with telling quality in both boxes.
Didier Deschamps has often faced criticism for his conservative style, but he’s done pretty much the absolute most he could have done in the last six years. France will have at least claimed silver at this World Cup in addition to Euro 2016, crowning gold back in Russia in 2018.
With only a handful of weeks with his ever-changing squad a season, Deschamps’ remit is to be in as best shape possible for seven games every two years. Qualification comes at a canter because he has instilled a professionalism that was flat out absent from previous eras at Clairefontaine.
France are no longer a team on the tip of crisis at any given moment, but rather one standing on the shoulders of giants.
Kylian Mbappe has been one of the best players this World Cup as expected, but their success has also been based on the reinvention and reinvigoration of old favourites like Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Hugo Lloris. The likes of Aurelien Tchouameni and Ibrahima Konate have stepped into the system seamlessly, too.
France head into Sunday’s final with Argentina without fear. They’ve been there and done that, most of their core having overcome the pressures to become world champions before – the same cannot be said of Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste, and that will at least play some part as the week progresses.
Every single country on this planet would trade their last six years of international football for that of France’s. This era, regardless of how the final ends, has been an undoubted success.
Alex Morgan late game strike gives San Diego Wave opening day win
Alex Morgan powered the San Diego Wave to their first win of the season with a late goal to blast them past the Chicago Red Stars.
In front of a sellout crowd of 30,854 fans at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California, Morgan’s 89th-minute penalty sealed all three points for the Wave in a hard-fought match. The Red Stars and Wave were evenly matched for the majority of the game, with Chicago having a slight edge in possession with 52% of the ball.
Chicago got on the scoresheet first with a Yuki Nagasato left-footed shot to the top right corner in the 18th minute. But San Diego wouldn’t stay quiet after that, quickly equalizing through an Amirah Ali header from close range in the 22nd minute, then doubling their lead in the 32nd minute with a goal from Jaedyn Shaw in the bottom right corner.
Yet, the Red Stars climbed back into the game with a Mallory Swanson penalty just before halftime.
However, the Wave was far more determined at the end, culminating in Morgan’s penalty in the game’s dying minutes. After the victory, Morgan thanked Wave supporters and spoke about their support in getting them the win.
“30,000 in the stands just kept us going. Just to win in our first game, feel good going into the season, there’s no better feeling. Hopefully we get 30,000 fans next game.”
With over 30,000 fans attending the match, the Wave broke the NWSL attendance record, previously set by the Orlando Pride in 2016, with 23,403 fans.
San Diego will continue their NWSL campaign this weekend at home as they take on the North Carolina Courage.
Every England player to make their debut under Gareth Southgate
You may regard him as tactically primitive, but you cannot deny that Gareth Southgate has helped a nation fall in love with its national team again.
Success in the form of silverware is yet to arrive, but the Three Lions are edging closer. The current England squad is as likeable as its ever been, and their talent matches their harmonious team dynamics. It’s an environment every English footballer wants to be a part of.
Chances have been granted to an endless list of names since Southgate took over, and while some like to criticise the boss for having supposed favourites, there’s no denying he’s handed out opportunities to every player who’s deserved a shot of making a name for themself on the international stage.
Southgate has handed out 55 England debuts since he took over as boss in September 2016. Here’s a list of every single one.
Debut: October 2016 vs Malta
Southgate’s first starting XI as England boss included debutant Jesse Lingard. The late-blooming Man Utd star was a protagonist in the Three Lions set-up for a while and he played a key role in their journey to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.
He’s scored six times in 32 caps for England.
Debut: November 2016 vs Spain
An injury to Danny Drinkwater – remember him?! – saw steady West Ham defender Aaron Cresswell earn his first England call-up.
His international career was brief as he only made three appearances, and he made his debut in a 2-2 draw with Spain at Wembley.
Debut: March 2017 vs Germany
Southampton tandem Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse both made their England bows in a March 2017 friendly against Germany. It was Redmond’s only appearance for his country.
Burnley defender Michael Keane started the contest on his first cap as England were beaten 1-0.
Debut: June 2017 vs France
The scorer of one of England’s greatest ever goals given the context, Trippier’s international career started in Paris as Southgate’s side were beaten by ten-man France.
Ousmane Dembele scored the winner 15 minutes from time after Raphael Varane was sent off at the start of the second half.
Trippier has since earned 41 caps for his country, with his only goal arriving in a World Cup semi-final.
Debut: October 2017 vs Lithuania
Two Harrys were spotted in an England shirt for the very first time in Lithuania.
This was the beginning of Southgate’s love affair with Maguire, who has been a cornerstone of his tenure, while Winks has drifted out of the limelight after initially promising so much.
Debut: November 2017 vs Germany
This Wembley friendly against Germany saw a bunch of new faces make their respective debuts. Southgate handed five players their first cap in this fixture.
While Cork (one cap), Abraham (11 caps), Gomez (11 caps), and Loftus-Cheek (ten caps) have each struggled to make a name for themselves on the international stage, Pickford has blossomed into a cult hero.
England’s number one has barely put a foot wrong since his integration and has starred at three major tournaments.
Debut: November 2017 vs Brazil
A 20-year-old Dominic Solanke hadn’t even kicked a ball in the Premier League when he made his England debut against Brazil in November 2017.
He hasn’t been capped since, but that isn’t to say his international career is over just yet.
Debut: March 2018 vs Italy
Lewis Cook’s only England cap netted the player’s grandfather £17,000 after he placed a £500 bet at the odds of 33-1 that his 18-year-old grandson would win a senior England cap before his 26th birthday.
Cook was just 21 on debut.
James Tarkowski also made his debut in the same friendly against Italy, but he’d win just one more cap for the Three Lions.
Debut: June 2018 vs Costa Rica
Trent’s tumultuous relationship with the national team began just before the 2018 World Cup against Costa Rica. Pickford’s second-in-command, Nick Pope, also earned his first cap.
Southgate’s pragmatism and preference for caution have seen the revolutionary right-back overlooked on the international stage. As a result, for all his talent, the Liverpool defender has notched just 18 England caps.
Debut: September 2018 vs Switzerland
England returned to action a couple of months after their World Cup heartbreak where Southgate introduced blossoming Leicester defender Ben Chilwell to his squad.
Danny Rose was on the decline, and fresh blood at left-back was needed. Chilwell and Luke Shaw have since emerged as Southgate’s preferred options down the left.
Debut: October 2018 vs Croatia
This has to be one of the most eagerly-anticipated debuts of the Southgate era, right? Only a few English supporters had caught a glimpse of Jadon Sancho in the Bundesliga before he made his international debut in a Nations League draw with Croatia.
The former Man City academy star has since teased his magic for the national team, but fierce competition in wide areas has often left him on the periphery.
Debut: October 2018 vs Spain
How did this happen then?
Debut: November 2018 vs USA
Most of you will remember this as being Wayne Rooney’s final game in an England shirt, but it should be remembered for Alex McCarthy’s second-half cameo between the sticks on his sole England cap.
Callum Wilson also scored on debut.
Debut: March 2019 vs Czech Republic
Another cornerstone of Southgate’s England, Declan Rice made his bow under the current incumbent’s watch.
The West Ham midfielder had seen his prestige soar in east London, but the vast majority were more intrigued by what Callum Hudson-Odoi could do on debut.
The highly-rated Chelsea teenager became the youngest-ever player to represent England in a competitive international – a record that barely lasted 18 months.
Debut: September 2019 vs Bulgaria
Chelsea’s transfer ban forced Frank Lampard’s hand during the start of his reign as Blues boss. Thus, academy graduates such as Mason Mount were given a chance to shine, and shine he did.
The elusive midfielder made an immediate impression on Southgate, who quickly called him up to his squad for Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Montenegro. Mount’s first cap arrived off the bench in a 4-0 thumping of the former.
He’s since been regarded as a highly-valued asset to the Three Lions squad and has earned 36 caps.
Debut: October 2019 vs Bulgaria
Mings conducted himself admirably in awful conditions on debut.
The Aston Villa defender was subject to racist abuse in Bulgaria which forced England’s Euro 2020 qualifier to be halted twice. It was the visitors who had the last laugh, though, as the hosts were thumped 6-0 as Mings kept a clean sheet.
The left-footed centre-back was later named in Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad and he impressed when called upon.
Debut: November 2019 vs Montenegro
Southgate has struggled to make room for a player of Maddison’s profile in his starting XI, especially at major tournaments. A 3-4-3 was utilised at Euro 2020 before the manager introduced a 4-3-3 at the 2022 World Cup.
Southgate’s hesitance to use the creative Maddison has been a distinct source of frustration among supporters. The Leicester playmaker has criminally played just twice for his country. Almost three-and-a-half-years separated his two caps.
Debut: November 2019 vs Kosovo
Southgate’s shunning of Tomori is nothing short of bizarre. The defender earned his debut after breaking through at Chelsea, but he’s since gone from strength-to-strength at Milan.
Tomori helped the Rossoneri to their first Scudetto in a decade in 2021, but he’s constantly been overlooked in the England conversation.
To be fair, he does have elite competition in the form of Eric Dier.
Debut: September 2020 vs Iceland
Phil Foden’s England bow was long overdue, but the Covid-19 pandemic brought about delays to the international schedule and the Man City star was forced to wait until September 2020.
England claimed a late 1-0 win, and Foden is yet to dazzle on the international stage.
Mason Greenwood also made his debut.
Debut: September 2020 vs Denmark
This was a drab Nations League affair, but at least we got to see Jack Grealish in an England shirt for the first time.
This was the start of the nation’s love affair with the Brummie, although such adoration dwindled after his big-money move to Man City. The crafty winger replaced fellow debutant Kalvin Phillips, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Conor Coady also earned their first caps.
Debut: October 2020 vs Wales
Four players made their debuts in an October 2020 friendly against Wales, including the irresistible Bukayo Saka and Chelsea full-back Reece James.
Leicester winger Harvey Barnes also made his England bow, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin became the 12th Englishman since 2000 to score on debut.
Debut: November 2020 vs Republic of Ireland
17-year-old Bellingham smashed Hudson-Odoi’s record when he made his debut in a friendly victory over the Republic of Ireland in November 2020.
Dean Henderson also made his England bow, but this contest will be remembered as the starting point of Jude’s international legacy.
The sky’s the limit for the ludicrously gifted midfielder.
Debut: March 2021 vs San Marino
Watkins cashed in against minnows San Marino and joined the list of players to score on their England debuts.
The Aston Villa man has been in red-hot form this season, but the presence of a certain all-time record goalscorer means his opportunities in an England shirt have been limited. He could be around Southgate’s setup for a while, though.
Debut: June 2021 vs Austria
Ben Godfrey was the beneficiary of a bloated squad ahead of the delayed Euros as England took on Austria in a friendly before the tournament got underway.
He didn’t make the final squad, although fellow debutant Ben White did. The Arsenal star was also picked in Southgate’s squad for the 2022 World Cup before departing early for specific reasons unknown.
Debut: June 2021 vs Romania
Johnstone was a steady customer at West Brom and he was named in Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad.
He kept a clean sheet on debut against Romania, but Pickford’s brilliance meant he never got a sniff at the Euros. Injuries have since seen him fall out of the England picture.
Debut: September 2021 vs Andorra
Marcelo Bielsa had Bamford playing some of the best football of his career and he was duly rewarded with an England call-up.
Lingard starred in the 4-0 win over Andorra in what is Bamford’s only England appearance to date.
Debut: November 2021 vs Albania
Smith Rowe earned his first call-up and cap almost a year on from his breakout Premier League appearance against Chelsea on Boxing Day 2020.
He’s featured three times for his country, scoring once, but injuries have taken their toll over the past year.
Debut: November 2021 vs San Marino
Ramsdale’s first England cap was a breeze as England put ten past San Marino in a World Cup qualifier. Despite his impressive form for Arsenal, Pickford’s reliability for the national team means he’s only earned three caps.
Conor Gallagher also took to the pitch that night, and he’s since emerged as a useful option off the bench for Southgate.
Debut: March 2022 vs Switzerland
Crystal Palace duo Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell have combined for five England caps since they made their debuts against Switzerland in a friendly last year.
There was no clean sheet for starter Guehi as Breel Embolo opened the scoring. Kyle Walker-Peters also started the game on his first England appearance.
Debut: June 2022 vs Hungary
These two were the most recent debutants before the March international break.
England were beaten 1-0 by Hungary away from home when James Justin and Jarrod Bowen, who’s been capped four times, made their England bows.
Debut: March 2023 vs Ukraine
And finally, number 55: Ivan Toney.
Brentford’s talisman has been in sparkling form this season, and an England call-up was fully deserved. His cameo off the bench against Ukraine was pretty uneventful, but it may well be the first off many appearances for his country.
He’s well worth keeping around for his penalty spot brilliance alone.
Andy Robertson hits back at Spain’s sportsmanship in loss to Scotland
Scotland captain Andy Robertson accused Spain’s players of “going down a little bit easily” and “rolling around” in an ill-tempered encounter at Hampden Park on Tuesday night.
Robertson was part of a backline which limited Spain to precious few chances as Scott McTominay bagged a brace to secure a famous 2-0 victory for the hosts. Referee Sandro Scharer whistled for 28 combined fouls, although Spain – despite their protestations – were adjudged to have committed more offences (15) than Scotland (13).
The Liverpool full-back was not impressed with the behaviour of Luis de la Fuente’s side, telling Viaplay after the match: “I think they were going down a little bit easily. We were trying to say that [to the referee]. We were always going to try and be physical; we wanted to be in their faces, we wanted to win our headers and we wanted to win our challenges. I think we done that and I don’t think we crossed the line.
“I think they were, especially in the first half, rolling around a wee bit much,” Robertson added. “They used their experience and they got a couple of us booked which is fair enough to them. I think we did win that battle and I think we got under their skin a wee bit, especially the first half. And then they made a couple of subs in the second half, bringing on a wee bit more experience in [Dani] Carvajal, who doesn’t really get caught up in these things.”
Spain’s skipper on the night, Rodri, accused Scotland of play-acting as well. “It’s the way they play…for me it’s a bit rubbish,” the Manchester City midfielder sniffed. “Because it’s always wasting time. They provoke you. They always fall. For me, this is not football.”
Robertson, unaware of that criticism, was keen to praise his team – which he described as “an absolute joy” to captain.
“It was an all-round top performance from us all and we’re really happy tonight. But, like I said, we need to go back to our clubs now and we can’t wait for June. But we have to put the same commitment, the same determination, the same quality in. If we do that, then it will put us in a good position,” he added.
Scotland kicked off their qualification campaign for the 2024 European Championships with a 3-0 victory over Cyprus on Saturday, putting Steve Clarke’s side top of the early standings in their five-team group – two of which will automatically qualify for the finals in Germany.
After seeing Scotland endure a 23-year absence from major international football, Robertson was quick to downplay his nation’s fast start. “It’s important we all don’t get carried away,” he stressed. “We’ve got six points, which is a great start but unfortunately six points doesn’t qualify us for the Euros.
“We’ve got two massive games in June,” the left-back continued. “If we come out of those games with the points we think we need, it’ll put us in a fantastic position.”
McTominay broke the deadlock against Spain after just seven minutes, setting Scotland on their way to the nation’s third-ever competitive victory against La Roja. “We knew we had to try to get off to a good start, put them under pressure, get the fans with us – and I think we did a really good job of that,” Robertson explained.
“When you score so early, you kind of fall back a bit, and we were defending too deep at the end of that first half. But I thought the second half was a really professional performance and shows how far we’ve come.
“The gaffer and his team set us up so well tonight, we knew we had the game plan and could cause them problems.
“We had belief. When the gaffer took over that was what was lacking. There was a disconnect between players and fans. Playing in front of a full crowd makes a massive difference, but you’ve got to back it up with performances.”
On this edition of Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders, Graeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth discuss Julian Nagelsmann’s future and links to the vacant Tottenham head coach role, Barcelona’s ambition to bring Lionel Messi ‘home’, Brighton teenager Evan Ferguson, Florian Wirtz, Kalvin Phillips and more!
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