Advertisement

'If France were playing in the back garden I'd close the curtains'

"If they were playing in the back garden I'd close the curtains."

Not a flattering description for a side who have just reached the semi-finals of Euro 2024.

But that is how former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton felt as he watched France stumble past Portugal, needing a penalty shootout to progress.

Their performance did very little to silence their critics, who have grown louder throughout the tournament, as France are still to score a goal from open play.

With superstar striker Kylian Mbappe yet to hit top form and struggling with the broken nose he suffered in the group stage, France have ridden their luck to reach this stage having largely underwhelmed and disappointed.

But manager Didier Deschamps remains defiant.

"We are now in the semi-finals and you could see the emotions we had with the fans," he said afterwards.

"It is pride for my players even though not everything has been done perfectly. We just keep going. I'd like to seize this moment and make the most out of it."

'Bang average' - but do France care?

No side has ever gone longer without a goal from open play in the tournament's history than France's five games.

With an array of attacking talent at their disposal, it is a shocking statistic.

Vice-captain Antoine Griezmann was substituted after 67 minutes in Hamburg, while Mbappe had to come off in extra time having registered two tame shots on target.

An inspired substitute performance from Ousmane Dembele put a little shine on an otherwise dismal display but, with Spain up next, France must surely improve.

"France did not deserve to go through and they have been bang average in this competition," said former striker Sutton.

"But it is about finding a way in tournament football. Didier Deschamps stumbles through again.

"Still, it's pretty staggering when you look at the players. Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann were ineffective.

"In the final third, their link-up play has not been there - that has been the story of France [at Euro 2024]."

Second favourites to win the tournament a few weeks ago and the highest-ranked European side in world football, France have failed to flatter and yet find themselves in the semi-finals.

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand said: "We mentioned the style of football, but do France care?"

"The resilience and grit they showed to get to this point... There were some wonderful penalties taken in the shootout."

'It's worked up until now'

Portugal created more chances, dominated possession and stamped their authority on a largely forgettable tie in Hamburg.

Rafael Leao caused problems down the left-hand side, while Bruno Fernandes came close on a few occasions in the second half.

A strong defensive display - helped by another colossal performance by Arsenal's William Saliba - helped France battle through.

"I will always defend my players. Kylian [Mbappe] and Antoine [Griezmann] are not playing their best football but, despite this, we're here," said Deschamps.

"Of course both are supposed to make us more efficient and we lack efficiency but they are hanging in there. They are part of a team.

"Beyond their football qualities, there is still a team strength that is alive. We had good substitutions and it's worked up until now."

It has worked so far but will it work again when France face in-form Spain, who overcame Germany in their quarter-final and have emerged as main contenders?

Ferdinand said France "ruined the game" against Portugal because of their gameplan, while ex-midfielder Danny Murphy said Deschamps "could be more adventurous".

"You do feel with the quality of the French players, Deschamps could be more on the front foot. Maybe the argument is the success he's had is proof enough," added Murphy.

But, while criticism remains, belief has grown within the France squad.

With their impressive defensive record recently - just one goal conceded in seven matches - they have been able to stay in games.

Now, just two matches away from European glory, Dembele believes they can go all the way, even if they are not at their best.

"Since 2014 the French national team has done very well apart from at Euro 2020 when we went out in the last 16," said Dembele.

"Our character has got stronger and we show solidarity. There have been difficult matches this year. We have reached the semi-finals and that shows how solid the team is.

"From a defensive point of view, we did a great job. That's how we won the match. We were solid and we kept that."