Having led France to World Cup glory and won Fifa’s coach of the year award, Didier Deschamps is at the top of his game. But as he knows only too well, the big challenge will be staying there
The crescendo for a team that finds itself growing as it hurdles the different stages of a tournament usually hits a high note at which everything suddenly seems incandescent with possibility. For France at the World Cup that came 57 minutes into their last-16 match in Kazan. Until that moment, Les Bleus had felt – perhaps even to themselves – like a work in progress. They had been effective but uninspiring in the group stage, their progress accompanied by rumblings from the media and public about how the team could eke more out of their talent. Then Benjamin Pavard set himself and struck a piercing volley to equalise against Argentina. He careered into a group embrace with his teammates in a state of euphoric disbelief. Everything felt instantly transformed.
Didier Deschamps did not need even a millisecond to settle on that moment as the catalyst, his team’s critical click. “It was the only moment at this World Cup where for nine minutes the French were about to be eliminated,” he says. “At that point, in the knockout round of the World Cup, to do that against Argentina, with their superior experience, gave our team so much conviction and determination. When you come out of a game like that there is nothing better.”