France – Denmark: Mbappé Magic Propels France To The Knockouts (2-1)

The big Group D fixture in the second round of fixtures saw the two European sides square off. After Tunisia’s loss to Australia, France knew that a win here would see them through to the knockouts and almost guarantee first place in their group. It took them a while, but with the contribution of one of the world’s best attackers, they got the job done in the end.

Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.

France’s World Cup campaign got off to a good start against Australia in spite of a brief initial blip, as they won 4-1. As we explored in our analysis of the game, Didier Deschamps’ initial gameplan might not have been spot on, but injuries and game state forced him to get it right. At their best, France looked like serious title contenders, so spirits must have been high going into this fixture.

Denmark’s aim would have been to dampen those spirits, especially after their disappointing draw with Tunisia. They could take encouragement from the fact that they had won the most recent fixture between these two teams just a few months ago. However, that was a very different game against a differently setup French side, though, so this was set to be a much tougher test.

France once again started with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Hugo Lloris was in goal again with a new-look back line of Jules Koundé, Raphaël Varane, Dayot Upamecano and Theo Hernández ahead of him. Beyond that, the side was unchanged from the Australia match, so Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot were in defensive midfield with Antoine Griezmann ahead of them, whilst Ousmane Dembélé, Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud led the attack.

Denmark stuck to the 3-4-2-1 system that they used against Tunisia. Kasper Schmeichel wore the captain’s armband behind a back three of Joachim Andersen, Andreas Christensen and Victor Nelsson. Rasmus Kristensen and Joakim Mæhle were the wing-backs whilst Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Christian Eriksen joined forces in the middle of the park. Jesper Lindstrøm and Mikkel Damsgaard operated behind Andreas Cornelius up front.

France dominate the first half but fail to score

To no one’s surprise, the better team on paper in terms of player quality had the upper hand in the first half. One of the reasons behind that was the fact that they were set up in a way that leveraged the strengths of their players.

In possession, France once again operated in a 3-2-5 system of sorts where the right back stayed relatively deep as an auxiliary fullback. The left back did not start in a very advanced position, but often made forward runs with the ball or when the ball was on his side of the pitch. That, in turn, required Mbappé to tuck into the halfspace, whereas Dembélé held the width on the other side.

This asymmetry dictated the way France’s attacks were created. The most common pattern saw them progress on the left side, where Tchouaméni and Griezmann would pop up to offer passing options and create overloads. In the final third, though, they probed the Danish left more, getting the ball across either through quick passing via a central player or by using a crossfield pass.

15th minute: A typical French attack that originates on the left, but culminates on the right after a crossfield pass.

As far as possession is concerned, the first half was extremely even, but France were clearly able to pose a threat with it. Denmark, meanwhile, struggled to break down the compact 4-4-2 block that stood in their way, so the defending champions did pretty much everything they could have hoped to in the first half apart from score.

Mbappé magic unlocks the Danish defense

Ultimately, goals decide football matches, and in that sense, it is extremely handy to have one of the world’s most potent attackers in your team. It gets even better when you have some elite suppliers around them. France tick both of those boxes.

The French left flank is utterly terrifying for opposition defenses because it contains Mbappé, whose qualities no longer need publicizing, and Theo Hernández, who is arguably the best attacking left back at the World Cup. When those two combine properly, there is little that anyone can do to stop them.

To their credit, Denmark did fight back soon thereafter using the only route that seemed realistically possible based on the way they were playing – a set-piece. In the 68th minute, Andersen flicked on a corner to Christensen, whose header found its way to the back of the net.

After that, the match seemed to be heading for a draw, which meant France would have some work to do in the final group game. Mbappé was in no mood for that, so he stole the show again with just a few minutes of regulation time left by making a superb run to the back post to meet Griezmann’s cross and win the match for his team.


There has been much talk about the curse of the champions in the last few weeks in the context of France’s World Cup campaign, but they have shown that they are far above it. Not only have Deschamps’ men qualified for the knockouts after two games, but they have done so in very convincing fashion as almost everything seems to be clicking for them. Indeed, their perfomances have been good enough for them to be considered as one of the favourites to win the tournament.

Denmark, on the other hand, have their work cut out heading into the final group fixture. Whilst France can afford to take their foot off the gas on Wednesday, the Danes will have to beat Australia in order to make it to the knockouts. That seems a tough task given the fact that they are yet to score in Qatar and have looked quite uninspiring from open play so far, so it will be interesting to see if Kasper Hjulmand tries to shake things up on Wednesday.

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