Moscow, Russian Federation, Jun 26 – France coach Didier Deschamps immediately switched his focus towards a “second competition” at the World Cup after his side clinched top spot in Group C following an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Denmark in Moscow.
France will discover their last 16 opponents later on Tuesday, as a possible showdown with Lionel Messi’s Argentina looms should they overcome Nigeria and claim second place in Group D.
“There’s a second competition that’s going to start, the last 16 is straight elimination,” said Deschamps.
“There’s a mountain in front of us now. But we’re there and we’re full of ambition to get to the next stage.”
France have scored just three times in three games in Russia, including a penalty and an own goal, and it was another disjointed display from one of the title favourites.
“The goal is achieved, the important thing was to be top of the group,” Deschamps said after France struggled to penetrate a determined Danish defence.
“It wasn’t a very exciting match at the end because the Danish team was okay with settling for a draw because they would qualify.”
“We tried to get a win,” Deschamps added. “At the end, once they stopped coming at us, the match was neutralised for the final quarter-hour.
“The one point with the draw was good enough for them. We weren’t going to take silly risks because this result was okay for everyone.”
Antoine Griezmann was restricted to a couple of long-range strikes, with his brightest contribution a threatening counter-attack that drew a cynical foul from Mathias Jorgensen.
It wasn’t until Griezmann was replaced by Nabil Fekir for the final 20 minutes that Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was genuinely tested.
“It’s difficult for everyone,” said Deschamps. “Spain, with their attacking options, and Germany have both had trouble.
“It’s one of the hallmarks of this World Cup, where all the teams are very well prepared physically.”
– ‘Gaining confidence’ –
Griezmann’s sluggish start at the World Cup mirrors his display at Euro 2016, where only after the group stage did he explode into life — scoring five of his six goals in the knockout rounds — on his way to winning the Golden Boot.
“People expect lots of goals, and other nice things, but we’re not here for that,” Griezmann told French television. “We want to win, we want to be first, we want to be in the last 16. That’s what we’ve done.
“Not everything was perfect. There are still things to sort out but we feel better in this system and we’re gaining in confidence.”
Denmark advanced to the latter stages of a World Cup for the time since 2002 as Age Hareide’s team extended their impressive unbeaten run to 18 matches.
They will likely face Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on July 1 for a spot in the quarter-finals.
“The goal was to come here and to progress to last 16,” said Hareide. “We had a tough group. If you look at the teams that we played I believe it was one of the toughest.”
“You need to do what you need to do in order to win matches,” he added. “It was a good performance by the boys. They were working hard for each other and sacrificed everything to get the point to take us through.”
Hareide tipped Denmark’s upcoming opponents, Croatia, as a team that could make a deep run in the competition, having thrashed Argentina 3-0 in their second group game.
“I think Croatia could surprise many,” the Norwegian said. “We’ve seen them play at the beginning of the tournament and they look strong.”