Is half-fit Varane really a better option than Saliba? France winners, losers and ratings as Deschamps' changes fall flat in Tunisia defeat
The most bittersweet of victories for Tunisia and relief for France. The Africans pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history by defeating the reigning champions at a raucous Education City Stadium thanks to Wahbi Khazri's second-half strike.
But their famous victory proved in vain, as Australia progressed to the last 16 instead of them thanks to a 1-0 defeat of Denmark.
France are also through, of course, and as winners of Group D, but Didier Deschamps' lack of strength in reserve was exposed on a night where he had to bring on his big guns to try salvage the game.
GOAL runs through all of the winners from a wild evening in Doha...
- Mailula, Tau and Bafana Bafana stars carrying Mzansi's hopes ahead of Afcon qualifiers against Liberia
- Kaizer Chiefs transfers: Five African strikers Amakhosi need to monitor
- Bafana Bafana squad: Introducing Broos’s 23 for South Africa-Liberia
- Pitso Mosimane rules Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates out, already helping Hunt with Caf Champions League tips
- Getty Images
Instant immortality for Wahbi Khazri. For all their dominance, Tunisia were toiling in front of goal until the skipper stepped forward and wrote himself into World Cup folklore. It was a hell of a goal, too, with Ellyes Skhiri's tenacity getting the better of Aurelian Tchouameni in the middle of the park before Aissa Laidouni released Khazri. The Tunisia No.10 took care of the rest, surging forward, wrong-footing Raphael Varane before finding the bottom corner with a swing of his left foot. It certainly wasn't the cleanest strike in the world but it was greeted like a World Cup winner...
The noise, my God, the noise. The Tunisia fans had been making quite the racket throughout the game anyway, having turned out in huge numbers to support their side through what looked like a thankless task against the reigning world champions. But when Khazri's goal went in, things just up a notch. The Education City Stadium pretty much exploded in joy. After the frustration of the Australia defeat, this felt like a collective roar of relief. It was their first goal of the tournament but boy was it worth the wait! The shame, of course, is that all proved in vain. Tunisia ultimately paid the price for a poor performance against the Socceroos, but these players were rightly cheered to the rafters at full-time by an immensely proud – and loud – set of supporters.
- Getty Images
Deschamps' hopes of resting Mbappe:
We knew beforehand that Kylian Mbappe wouldn't start, given he was nursing a minor knock. However, the hope was among French fans that he would be able to remain on the bench for the duration of the game. Best-laid plans and all that... Mbappe had to be summoned into action after Tunisia sensationally took the lead. He will still likely benefit from having an hour's rest, but the sight of France's best player having to be thrown into the fray did not reflect well on the squad's strength in depth.
France's left-back options:
The tournament-ending injury suffered by Lucas Hernandez in the first half of France's opener against Australia really was a disaster for Deschamps. His decision to bring only one specialist left-back – Lucas' brother, Theo – was queried as soon as the squad was announced. And it could yet prove incredibly costly. Theo Hernandez has been exceptional so far, at least from an offensive perspective (no player has created more chances), but as this game so emphatically underlined, Les Bleus are now one injury away from having to once again play Eduardo Camavinga at left-back. Valiantly as he played here, making umpteen tackles and clearances, the Real Madrid youngster was clearly targeted by the Tunisians. A makeshift left-back is a weakness that would be brutally exposed by even stronger sides later in the competition.
There was no talk before the game of William Saliba carrying an injury, which made his exclusion all the more puzzling. However, the feeling was that Deschamps wanted to give Varane more game time after his recent return to full fitness, and he certainly looked like he needed it given the cumbersome way in which he tried to deal with Khazri. His withdrawal midway through the second half felt like an act of mercy and it would now be a massive surprise if Saliba, who came on his place, has not moved ahead of him in France's central defensive pecking order.
- Getty Images
France Ratings: Defence
Steve Mandanda (5/10):
Bizarrely elected to punch the ball clear early on, rather than just claim it with both hands, and just never looked convincing. Questions will be asked about how he was so easily beaten by such a weak strike.
Axel Disasi (5/10):
Unlike Camavinga, he was actually able to get forward down the right flank, but to little effect.
Raphael Varane (4/10):
Made a good clearance during early Tunisian pressure but followed it up with a poor one to Khazri, who stung the palms of Mandanda. On the plus side, more minutes under his belt, but his lack of pace was exposed on the goal.
Ibrahima Konate (6/10):
Given far more to do than he would have expected, making six tackles during the first half alone. One of the few French players to acquit himself reasonably well.
Eduardo Camavinga (6/10):
Selected to start at left-back and made his presence felt early on with a thunderous challenge on Khazri. He had plenty of struggles but he never stopped battling. Deserved to see out the game.
- Getty Images
Youssouf Fofana (4/10):
Struggled horribly to get into the game, so it was no surprise to see him hauled off in the second half.
Aurelien Tchouameni (5/10):
One of the few French players capable of holding onto the ball during the first half but he was at fault for the goal.
Jordan Veretout (3/10):
Amazing that he's in the squad, let alone in the starting line up. Lucky to last more than an hour.
- Getty Images
Matteo Guendouzi (4/10):
Unsurprisingly uncomfortable on the left flank, and the right after being switched in the second half. Offered very little going forward and didn't do a good job protecting Camavinga. Replaced on the hour.
Randal Kolo Muani (5/10):
Got next-to-no service, even after the arrival of the star men for the closing stages.
Kingsley Coman (4/10):
Did nothing to strengthen his claim on a starting spot, making a mess of his best opportunity to score with a dreadful first touch. One of the first to be taken off, and rightly so.
- Getty Images
Subs & Manager
Antoine Griezmann (7/10):
Came on for Fofana in the 72nd minute and made an immediate difference. Nearly snatched an equaliser at the death but was denied by VAR.
Kylian Mbappe (7/10):
Introduced shortly after Tunisia had broken the deadlock and was a constant menace but just didn't have enough time to turn the game around.
William Saliba (7/10):
Took over in defence from a struggling Varane just after the hour mark and looked at ease.
Adrien Rabiot (6/10):
Replaced the ineffective Veretout and immediately settled things down in the middle of the park.
Ousmane Dembele (6/10):
Replaced Guendouzi for the final 12 minutes but couldn't make anything happen.
Didier Deschamps (4/10):
The decision to rest so many players resulted in a shock defeat, but not a costly one. However, he now knows that certain players are not up to the standard required and he must take some of the blame for that.