In their final World Cup match before the tournament begins, a fully-fledged French team – playing at home – laboured to a 1-1 draw against a second-string USA side in Lyon.
The US went into the game merely looking to put minutes into the next generation, knowing full well that they cannot afford to miss the 2022 World Cup after the disastrous qualification experience of this last campaign.
Of course, being one of the favourites for the entire tournament, there was no onus for France to break any records. Alas, they surely did not. But a completely listless display has suddenly produced more questions than answers.
It was impossible not to notice how difficult it was for the French to break down their unfancied visitors. Bert van Marwijk and his coaching staff hopefully picked up on the fact as well.
Although the result ultimately meant little to anyone, Les Blues coach Didier Deschamps must have wanted to iron out any last minute kinks and to raise team fluidity. This was a stage-managed opportunity to brew some confidence in a national team whose historical performances tend to hinge on their mood.
Instead, the opposite happened. As the match wore on the French team seemed to lose control of their tactical discipline.
The USA’s decision to sit deep – often on the edge of their own box – may not be the most beautiful strategy but it was undeniably effective. The question to ask is this: why couldn’t France break it down?
The point is not so much about celebrating the USA’s approach but more about how France failed to deal with the wall of white. They were even booed by their own fans at half time.
Critically, rather than trying to solve the issues presented to them as a collective, individual players tried to do something overly spectacular. Everyone wanted to win the game himself. Could this be the chink in the armour?
It seemed odd that a team that boasts so many of the world’s best passers and playmakers would be reduced to such a thing so close to a tournament that many pundits believe they will win.
But that’s one of the quirks of international football. For all the talent, you don’t always get enough time together to play as well as a club team might. And this French team, for all its talent, needs more tuning.
While France did get a late equaliser, it came from an excellent team move, finished by Kylian Mbappe – not one of their long-range efforts. So it’s clear they can do it, but only if they want to.
It’s no secret that the Socceroos have been trying to master the art of blocking passing lanes, compressing the space and nailing down their defensive duties. Most of their training sessions have been firmly focused on this.
Of course, it’s infinitely easier to execute what the USA did in a friendly than what Australia will aim to do in a World Cup match.
But having been shown that France is far from invincible, the Socceroos and their pragmatic boss might be feeling like the opening match might be a whole lot more competitive than many of the doubters are predicting.