France serve up thrills but frailties remain

25 Jul 2021
  • France beat South Africa in seven-goal thriller

  • Gignac and Savanier make difference late on

  • Tousart: "We concede too many chances and goals"

Brittle at the back during their 4-1 loss to Mexico, France were again guilty of leaking goals against South Africa on Sunday. But unlike that opening defeat in Group A, this time Les Bleus displayed their qualities too – showcasing their attacking potential and mental strength during a game in which they fell behind on three occasions. Each time they were hauled level by an Andre-Pierre Gignac in scintillating form, before Teji Savanier completed a miraculous 4-3 comeback victory in added time.

"We're happy with how it worked out," Lucas Tousart told FIFA.com after his team's emotional roller coaster. "It's true that it was a crazy game, but we're more focused on the result and the ending. It wasn't easy, but we're relieved and happy to have been able to pull off this win."

Their relief is easy to understand given that France looked set for a second consecutive defeat, but Tousart recognises that his side have progress to make.

"It's true that we have still have things to work on," said the 24-year-old midfielder. "We concede too many chances and goals. There's no doubt it wasn't the perfect match, but we're not going to turn our noses up at it either. The players in this squad don't know each other well yet and have to learn to play together, so we're focused on the positives, especially after losing our first game."

SAITAMA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Lucas Tousart #6 of Team France shoots and misses during the Men's First Round Group A match between France and South Africa on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Stadium on July 25, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Buda Mendes - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Saved by the bar

Even so, Tousart and Co were given a let-off just before half-time, the former Lyon stalwart having conceded a penalty when the scoreline was still 0-0. "It's true I had a lucky escape," explained Tousart, now at Hertha Berlin. "I didn't see the player coming and thought I could just clear the ball without pressure. He did well and got himself just in front of my foot. That's the way it goes and I was a little naive. I was praying it wouldn't go in and we got lucky. Our keeper went the right way and the shot ended up hitting the bar without going in."

The crossbar came to their rescue in the first half, but it was coach Sylvain Ripoll's last-minute call-ups who turned the match around at the end – starting with Gignac, whom Tousart was quick to praise. "He's a super player. I'd only ever seen him on TV and I've found him to be a great guy and a true leader. It's a really good thing that he's here with us. He knows how to motivate everyone to go out and win and he's decisive, as we saw this evening. He knows how to score at the right time, how to be in the right place and how to score goals that do a lot of good. He brings us all his know-how and he came up with an extraordinary performance."

Savanier channelling Zizou

In addition to his hat-trick, Gignac also set up Savanier to bury the winning strike in the 93rd minute, just days after the Tigres star had compared his team-mate to Zinedine Zidane. Like Gignac, Tousart has also been impressed with the Montpellier playmaker. "I knew him in Ligue 1 and he's also a super player. He's alert to any opportunities and the quality of his technique and passing are extraordinary. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. His touch, his shots, his crosses… it's crazy. His poise helps us a lot in midfield, and what can you say about his goal tonight?"

Although 2018 FIFA World Cup™ winner Florian Thauvin made less of an impact than France's key duo, together the senior contingent were able to cancel out any weaknesses at the back. But while that proved enough to down South Africa, next up Les Bleus face a Japan side fresh from beating Mexico 2-1 – meaning the race is on to inject a newfound defensive rigour and collective strength.