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France beat England because champion teams win big moments | World Cup 2022

Mmidnight strikes and the party is over. England crumbles onto the turf in fragments: one here, a couple there, one closer to the center circle. The land of Al Bayt is a field of shattered dreams, of hope and despair, and more hope, and more despair. In the VVIP seats, David Beckham holds his head in his hands, albeit for only one of the reasons he should be. Then Gareth Southgate will talk about how close they are, what these players can still achieve. England is proud. England challenge. But England is finished.

It’s no consolation here to point out that England did their best, had most of the chances and most of the ball, came with a plan and largely executed it at the letter. Nor is it any consolation to rehash the usual platitudes about this being a great group of guys. All of the above is true. But in the heat of knockout football, this only gets you to the finish line. It doesn’t dictate if someone gets there before you.

The truth is that England were beaten here by the better team, which does not mean that France played better that night. The difference here, perhaps, is between wanting and belonging. Between the small corners of chance and self-projection that separate the champion teams from the very good ones. England have won the process game, the game that is played in a manager’s head on a Friday night, the game you play when you don’t really have any institutional memory to fall back on. But France has won the game of moments, the game of actions rather than intentions. And in a unique showdown with everything at stake, it’s the moments that win you the game.

Olivier Giroud’s header and Harry Kane’s penalty are the clearest example of this. With a bullet in the gun, Giroud did his job and Kane didn’t do his. But the game was also won and lost in the small moments: the times when France simply flexed its imperial strength, tapped into its database of solutions, and brought its vision to fruition.

Do you need Antoine Griezmann to find the right pass? Do you need Kylian Mbappé to get out of a difficult situation with three English players on his trail? You have to foul Bukayo Saka without it looking like a foul? Need your tidy defensive midfielder to score one from 25 yards out? These are hard things to do, and yet the fact that France has done these things before, under the greatest pressure, against the fiercest opposition, makes these acts more real before they have even left the realm of the conceptual.

To some extent, of course, they are simply great footballers doing great things. But Kane is a great footballer. Phil Foden is a great footballer. Jude Bellingham is one of the best midfielders in the world, but in the biggest game of his life he was no better than average. That’s why winning teams say the final leg of the journey is the hardest: a place beyond plans or processes, the kind of place even the experienced Southgate can’t describe because he himself can’t. never been there.

Harry Kane's penalty goes over the crossbar.
Harry Kane’s penalty goes over the crossbar. Photography: Stefan Matzke/sampics/Corbis/Getty Images

Think how much better Spain had to be – lavishly, extravagantly – than everyone else just to win a World Cup, by just one goal in extra time. Think of how many times Real Madrid won the Champions League against teams that were theoretically better than them, that did everything right, that followed the mantras, controlled the controllables. But there comes a time when events are no longer in your control, the time when instinct, will and self-mythology – the kind of stuff you can’t train or put in a protein smoothie – take over. above.

England have risen to the occasion. France did not need it, because the occasion was already at the French dimension. England was brave. France didn’t need to be brave, as their default courage level was already enough. England believed. France knew. Even in the trickiest of times, as England surged and the noise grew, France simply maintained their discipline, made sure every ball needed was contested, every shot needed was blocked. And when they had a good five minutes, they scored.

That’s why focusing on the finer details of this game, focusing on passing cards and substitutions and refereeing decisions and the 1%, is really discussing a game that hasn’t never took place.

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France beat England because champion teams win big moments | World Cup 2022

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Thank you for your opinion.

Every klutz with a cellphone will have an opinion on Southgate, on England, on the talent lane, on Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford, on what this team should or shouldn’t be able to achieve. But I would bet that nothing that happened in those 100 minutes will have moved a single one of those reviews one iota.

It’s the infuriating frustration of defeat: the way it fractures on contact into a million subjectivities, a million pieces of content, a blur of blame, exoneration and forensic analysis. Find the moment of cleanliness, as France did, and it all vaporizes in an instant. Turn words into deeds, and words are useless.

Ultimately, when you sum it up, France did and England didn’t. Is football a simple game or a complex game? This match, in a way, was the perfect answer.


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