France Needs To Be Better Than This
11:11 AM EDT on July 24, 2022
Ahead of the quarterfinal stage of the 2022 Euros, France's showdown with the Netherlands looked to be the most exciting match on paper. France is probably the second best team in the world, give or take your opinion on Sweden. Netherlands, on the other side, were the defending Euros champions and the runners-up at the 2019 World Cup. Going by FIFA's calculations, the final quarterfinal of the round had the best combination of rankings: France is currently ranked third, and the Netherlands fourth.
Anything less than an absolute banger of a match would have disappointed on Saturday. Luckily for viewers, France did its best to choke away the match to its orange-clad opponents, creating unnecessary but welcome drama in the process. Luckily for France, though, it got its shit together long enough to score a game-winning, VAR-aided penalty deep into extra time and advance past the quarterfinal stage of the Euros for the first time ever.
There's no sugar-coating to be done here: France should have won this game by a lot more than a late penalty. The French side was absolutely dominant in attack, constantly barraging the Dutch goal throughout the first 90 minutes of this game. The numbers bear this out: while the Netherlands put only one shot on target on nine total attempts, France had an almost hilarious 33 shots and 13 on target. The Dutch defense had no answer for the French attack, beyond prayers and last-gasp clearances, like the one from Stefanie van der Gragt in the 37th minute that, somehow, kept Melvine Malard's shot out. van der Gragt was forced to make three goal-line clearances on Saturday, which really speaks to how much control France had over this game.
The main reason that the game got into extra time at all, though, was that France could not get past Daphne Van Domselaar, who had herself a night, saving 10 shots on Saturday and only getting beaten from the spot by Ève Périsset in the 102nd minute:
Even with a goalie standing on her head, though, France should not have struggled as much as it did, especially with how strong its defense was. On the other side of the pitch, Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock Bathy shut down the best striker left in the tournament, as Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema could not get anything going.
Part of that was the defensive work from the French backline, though another and maybe bigger part was that Miedema coming back from having COVID-19; she looked rusty and out of sorts, particularly as the game dragged into extra time. Outside of Miedema, the Dutch attack did very little of note, stalling out any time it got close to the French box. The expected goals tally was completely lopsided: the Netherlands only notched 0.51 xG, compared to France's 4.33. That kind of differential often leads to more than a scrappy 1-0 win, but that's what France got on Saturday.
Les Bleues will have to fix their finishing deficiencies going forward, as the competition will not get any easier. While the Netherlands is the best opponent that France will face, at least on paper, the path to a first Euros title runs through hell and high water. Next up for the French is Germany, who coolly defeated its neighboring Austrian rivals 2-0 on Thursday. The day is important there: Germany had an easier time than France did, and also has two extra days to rest up before Wednesday's semifinal in Milton Keynes.
If France gets past the Germans for a first Euros final appearance, then the task will only be harder: Either it will have to take on second-ranked Sweden or the hosts of England, who got past its own difficult opponent in Spain. All of these teams can, and perhaps should, believe that they are the best one left, but France will likely take the most convincing. After all, the French showed on Saturday that they can dominate even the best of teams and still need some luck to advance. Perhaps that luck will run out against Germany, or in the final, but a team this good shouldn't have to rely on luck at all.