France are copping it from football fans at the FIFA World Cup after resting the majority of their starting side against Tunisia in a controversial move that almost cost the Socceroos a dream place in the last 16. France suffered a 1-0 loss to Tunisia after already qualifying for the knockout stages, with all of their stars watching on from the sideline.
The tactical move to rest their stars made the equation all the more hard for the Socceroos, who had previously assumed that a draw against Denmark would get them through. But Tunisia's win over France meant Australia had to beat Denmark and gain all three points to seal a historic place in the round of 16.
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Things took a turn for the worse for Australia when Tunisia went ahead 1-0 early in the second half. But in the simultaneous match against Denmark, Matthew Leckie replied just three minutes later to put the Socceroos up 1-0.
With both goals ending up being the winners, the Socceroos advanced and Tunisia narrowly missed out. Australia and France both finished on six points to top the group, with Tunisia behind on four and Denmark on one.
And despite France's decision to rest their star players not ultimately costing the Socceroos, fans were still quick to condemn their performance on social media. The 1-0 loss was described as 'pathetic' and 'diabolical' as France coach Didier Deschamps came under heavy fire.
Deschamps' bizarre decision to play debutant Axel Disasi at right-back came under the most scrutiny. The 24-year-old has spent his entire career in midfield.
France coach defends playing second-string side
Speaking after the loss, Deschamps defended his decision to rest nine of his usual starters. Kylian Mbappe was among the many star players rested, with only captain Raphael Varane and Aurelien Tchouameni keeping their places.
France were very disjointed and lost after Wahbi Khazri's second-half strike. A VAR check then denied Antoine Griezmann an equaliser in injury time.
"They will learn from this," Deschamps said of his second-string players. "Tunisia were right up for it while we were timid, late into the challenges and made too many errors, even if we did do better at the end when some more experienced players came on. This result means we haven't met all our objectives but the most important one was to be in the last 16."
Barcelona defender Jules Kounde, who was on a yellow card and risked a suspension if booked again, was among those rested. Deschamps also said Marcus Thuram was set to play before a last-minute problem forced him to into a further change.
Asked whether he had made a mistake with his side, Deschamps replied: "We might have got a better result but we still would have had to play again in four days. My players are not tired. They just put a lot of energy into the first two matches
"We have a last-16 tie coming up and we also need to take into account that games are now lasting 105 minutes," he added, with a reference to the large amounts of stoppage time added at the tournament. I was not neglecting this game but the focus was on Sunday."
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold was left overjoyed for his side. However he once again reiterated that he didn't want any celebrations just yet.
"It's the first time ever an Australian team has won two games of the World Cup in a row," Arnold said. "Maybe we're talking about a new golden generation now because we've been listening and hearing about the golden generation of 2006 who got four points - and now we've got six.
“No celebrations. As I said to the boys, that’s why we won after a great win against Tunisia.
“No celebrations, no emotion. Sleep. No social media. Just so proud of the effort by the boys. Short turnaround but their effort was incredible.
“[It took] a lot of belief, a lot of hard work. These boys come in with a great mindset. We’ve been working on this for four and a half years. We have the belief, the energy and the focus. I could see in their eyes that they were ready tonight.”
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is on SBS and SBS on Demand.
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