June 26, 2018 / 5:46 PM / 9 months ago

Soccer: 'Mission accomplished', but can France fire?

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The jeers of a bored 80,000 World Cup crowd at Luzhniki Stadium did not trouble France coach Didier Deschamps, for whom a 0-0 draw with Denmark was “mission accomplished” as his side finished top of Group C ahead of the Danes.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group C - Denmark vs France - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 26, 2018 A France fan looks on during the match REUTERS/Carl Recine

They now head to their retreat outside Moscow to prepare for the runners-up in Group D — Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland and leaders Croatia all play later on Tuesday — and Deschamps was having none of the criticism that France have yet to inspire.

“Our goal was to top the group and we achieved that,” he said. “We did more than they did. They seemed happy with one point,” he added, of the Danes, whose coach Age Hareide had upset Deschamps by calling the French team “nothing special”.

If anyone was to blame for the lack of spectacle, Deschamps said, it was Denmark, who stopped attempting to get forward in order to secure a draw — even though Peru’s 2-0 win over third-placed Australia made even that point unnecessary.

While the French had half a dozen chances early in the game, he added, he too was anxious not to take the risk of a Danish goal on the break once the match ground towards the end.

Making six changes to his starting lineup — including a run-out for 33-year-old reserve goalkeeper Steve Mandanda — also damaged his side’s cohesion, Deschamps acknowledged.

But he wanted to rest first-choice players, as well as three who risked suspension if they picked up another booking.

Hareide, for one, appeared to have revised his opinion, however, despite the jeers, whistles and slow handclaps that filled the Russian capital’s main stadium near the final whistle.

“You will go far,” he told a French journalist. France, Hareide said, were definitely among the contenders to lift the World Cup.

Deschamps, told about the Norwegian’s latest comment, gave it a frosty welcome: “Ah, he’s changed his mind, has he?” he said.

As for those still unimpressed by France’s form, Deschamps insisted, topping the group was job done and the knockout phase was something else: “We’ve done what we need,” he said.

“There’s a whole new competition starting now.”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Ken Ferris

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