Here’s One Last Goddamn Thing France Has To Try And Overcome
3:48 PM EST on December 16, 2022
France is the defending World Cup champions and as such, the fact that it has played its way into a second-straight final is not necessarily an altogether surprising result on its own. But it is worth perhaps reframing France's run to the final not as a juggernaut team running it back, but as a masterwork of resilience that is mostly attributable to France's stunning depth. Yes, Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann are still at the heart of this team, yet France began the tournament without Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema, Presnel Kimpembe, and Christopher Nkunku, and starting left back Lucas Hernandez tore his ACL in France's first game. Benzema might be eligible to play in the final, though France is still, right up to the last game of the tournament, dealing with fresh slings and arrows. Which is an oblique way to state what's currently happening: everyone is sick with the flu and crapping themselves.
"In Doha, temperatures have fallen a little bit, you have air conditioning which is on all the time," French manager Didier Deschamps said after his team's semifinal win against Morocco. "We've had a few cases of flu-like symptoms. We are trying to be careful so it doesn't spread, and players have made great efforts out on the pitch and obviously their immune systems suffer."
"It’s a small bug, which has spread, but there’s nothing serious," said Randal Kolo Muani, who scored the game-sealing goal against Morocco, in his fourth international game, with his first touch. "They’ll be on their feet on Sunday." Per The Athletic, a French press officer added: "As you know, Randal is not a doctor."
Deschamps had to give Youssouf Fofana his seventh cap against Morocco in the semifinal because Pogba's replacement, Adrien Rabiot, was so sick with the flu that he couldn't even attend the game. Dayot Upamecano, who also started the game against England, also had to sit out France's 2-0 win over Morocco. Things have only gotten worse. Per ESPN, Upamecano's replacement, Ibrahima Konaté, was briefly room-bound, while his center back partner Rafael Varane and forward Kingsley Coman are also sick enough they had to train away from the rest of the team. Mission-critical starters Aurélien Tchouaméni and Theo Hernandez also had to miss practice with regular, old-fashioned injuries.
France's steady progress to the final is a testament to their depth, though mostly, I think it's an indicator of just how special Mbappé, Griezmann, and Giroud have been throughout the tournament. It's shocking to think any player could be the prime attacking force on two World Cup-winning sides by age 23, but Mbappé has played well enough that it's possible, even likely. To get there, France will have to hang with a tough Argentina side despite the sickness currently ripping through their team. But they have a secret weapon: Ousmane Dembélé's kettle.
"No, we’re not scared of the virus," he said. "Dayot and Adrien had headaches. I made them a cup of tea with ginger and honey to help them relax."