France happy to go under the radar, so why is momentum so important for England?

In 19 days’ time, two sides will walk out at the Luzhnicki Stadium to contest the World Cup final.

The shadow of France’s winning team of 20 years ago still hangs over the class of 2018, but after failing to excite the Moscovites in their first visit, few should discount their chances of returning to take up one of the dressing rooms on July 15.

Few in Paris will see a soporific draw with Denmark as diminishing their hopes of glory in Moscow next month, when other nations have feared that momentum might be lost with a poor showing in a dead rubber such as this.

A depleted France full of players who may never start another game out in Russia were unspectacular, like they were in a turgid stalemate with Switzerland at the end of the Euro 2016 group stage, but they ultimately grew in stature and were denied in the final by Portugal.

Denmark were in no real rush themselves, despite over half an hour in the second half when in the knowledge that it would take three unanswered Australian goals against Peru to threaten their progress.

This was game 37 of a thrilling World Cup that had been littered with controversy and incident, but there was nothing of the sort in the Russian capital, nothing to break the stand-off, the sense of ennui.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia“Australia have 25 minutes to find three goals, it’s some run-chase,” quipped the unimpressed Clive Tyldesley on ITV.

The Danish coach Age Hareide had appeared to light the blue touch paper by claiming France were nothing special beforehand, and their opponents did very little to disprove that opinion.

This was a forewarning for Belgium’s clash with England in Kaliningrad, but should Didier Deschamps be concerned? Denmark themselves were reluctant to break from their rigid defensive lines against a weakened team, but they are not expected to advance deep into the tournament.

The debate is over whether France can flick the switch. Time will tell if their failure to find any rhythm and refusal to show imagination in reaching the knockout stages will have a knock-on effect.

Despite the chorus of boos at the full-time whistle, Deschamps is still on track to join an elite group of men to win the tournament both as a player and manager. Only Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany have done so.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaStill the critics voice their doubts, with Zinedine Zidane and Arsene Wenger out of work, but after six years in charge, this was Deschamps’ 80th match at the helm, more than any French coach since the Second World War.

He won’t be cowed into entertaining at all costs, and by producing a swashbuckling victory over a second-string Belgium on Thursday, England could just as easily sleepwalk into a sea of trouble when they have the luxury of choosing a more calculated approach.

The Danes knocked France out of the World Cup when they arrived in Japan and South Korea as champions in 2002 – their only victory in their last seven encounters – but they didn’t look like improving that record here.

There was no Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba or Kylian Mbappe in the starting line-up but France are hardly short of options. They needed just a point to top the group and the Danish assistant John Dahl Tomlinson was listening in via radio to events between Australia and Peru 1,500km away in Sochi.

He will have removed his earpiece long before the end, but despite it being immediate from kick-off that Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen would line up in midfield in a defensive formation, Denmark made a bright start.

Andreas Cornelius, once of Cardiff City, won his first aerial duel to find Martin Braithwaite but the Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci waved away his appeal for a penalty under the challenge from Presnel Kimpembe.


A fortuitous French win against the Australians followed by a far from convincing victory over Peru had hardly set the pulses racing for one of the pre-tournament favourites and stray passes in the opening 10 minutes, whilst a precursor for what was to come, initially gave the Danes further encouragement.

But France finally enjoyed a nice pattern of play with added penetration as Olivier Giroud won a corner after Lucas Hernandez went to ground with Henrik Dalsgaard for company. Thomas Lemar’s set piece was glanced harmlessly wide by Raphael Varane.

News filtered through that Andre Carrillo had given already-eliminated Peru the lead against Australia. The pockets of red voiced their approval, the pressure eased despite another penalty appeal after Djibril Sidibe’s cross struck the hand of Mathias Jorgensen from point-blank range.

A wonderful cross from Cornelius from a Denmark breakaway saw a combination of Steve Mandanda and Hernandez do just enough to thwart Christian Eriksen at his feet, before Ousmane Dembele shot a yard wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s post, but neither keeper were forced to excel with both teams knowing they were safely qualified with a low-key draw.

Momentum was frequently lost as Denmark slammed the door shut through their use of five defenders. France looked to the flanks given Giroud’s aerial threat, but both Sidibe and Hernandez struggled to find him.

The best chance of the half appeared to fall to Giroud, but it came after Antoine Griezmann had already been flagged for offside before the Chelsea striker blazed over.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

A tepid opening 45 minutes ended with Jorgensen cynically hauling down the Atletico Madrid man on the halfway line. Ricci wouldn’t even allow the free-kick to be taken, almost out of anger at the poor quality on show.

Into the second period and Paulo Guerrero doubled Peru’s lead, which threatened to kill this simmering contest stone dead. But a spill from Mandanda from Eriksen’s dipping free-kick very nearly presented an opening to Cornelius before the former Crystal Palace stopper recovered just in time.

Substitute Nabil Fekir lashed a shot into the side-netting before Mbappe was brought on for the last knockings, but it appeared a deal had been struck between both managers.

Giroud backed into Simon Kjaer seeking a penalty, but the match official waved play on. After the farce of Monday night, this was a game that craved a moment of VAR drama, like Sweden versus South Korea had done so earlier in the tournament.

The Russian neutrals began to jeer with 10 minutes remaining. Nobody would get hurt if it remained 0-0, but this was a victim of circumstance. The chance to store some energy would always be taken when it was clear Peru would defeat Australia in Sochi.


The twinkling toes of Mbappe nearly presented France with a late winner but Christensen snuffed out the danger as discontent showered down from the stands at the full-time whistle.

But this was job done for France, who had created very little momentum in their first two games to feel that any was significantly lost.

If Deschamps’ side return to Moscow in a little under three weeks, the joke will be on those who sought swiftly to erase this gentle snore-fest from their memories.

The obvious argument is that England should seek to now avoid this apparent stagnation in their final group game, but it is just as presumptuous to claim that they, like Croatia later on Tuesday, haven’t peaked too soon if they do take the foot off the gas.

The unspoken truth is that Gareth Southgate is currently the English media’s puppet, swift to backtrack when showing any signs of speaking out last week following Steve Holland’s team-sheet “leak”.

Both he and those who attend his press conferences appear determined to stay on message when it comes to facing Belgium this week, highlighting the need to seek nothing but victory despite the obvious pitfalls which might come with falling on the tougher side of the draw.

Southgate has gone further, referencing England’s solitary victory in knockout tournaments in 16 years, but the unsubstantiated euphoria – seen in the cringeworthy beer-throwing gardens – created by wins over Tunisia and Panama should not mask the fact that this young side might in fact benefit from taking France’s route of going under the radar.

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