A much-improved France side punched its ticket to the knockout round of the World Cup as Kylian Mbappe’s goal in the 34th minute provided the margin in a 1-0 victory over hard-luck Peru in Group D on Thursday at Ekaterinburg.
Manager Didier Deschamps’ decision to introduce both striker Olivier Giroud and midfielder Blaise Matuidi while switching to a 4-2-3-1 set-up paid handsome dividends for Les Bleus, even though it did not show in the scoreline. Giroud was able to create plays with knockdown passes, while Matuidi paired with N’Golo Kante to keep Peru’s offense at arm’s length for most of the contest.
The 19-year-old Mbappe tapped in a shot by Giroud that was deflected over Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese by sliding defender Alberto Rodriguez. Paul Pogba, looking for more effective with more space to operate in a reserved midfield spot underneath Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, started the play by winning a challenge and sliding a pass to Giroud on the left.
France, though, suffered in the second half as Peru threatened at times, with Pedro Aquino clipping the left post from 25 yards with a rasping drive after a pass from Jefferson Farfan. The Incas’ first World Cup appearance in 36 years will be a short-lived one as the loss eliminated them, but they have won plaudits for their positive and fearless play while bringing a vibrant fan base from South America.
Les Bleus moved atop Group C and will finish first with a draw or better against Denmark in its final match. Peru will look to play spoiler against Australia since the Socceroos can still reach the round of 16 with a victory and a loss by the Danes depending on the margin of victory.
France keeper Hugo Lloris nearly started his 100th appearance in disastrous fashion as Yoshimar Yotun tried to catch him off his line from 50 yards, but the shot nestled on top of the net instead of in it, much to the Tottenham No. 1’s relief.
From there, les Bleus laid their attacking intentions in clear sight. Pogba let fly with a 25-yard curling effort that bounced just wide of the left post, and Raphael Varane narrowly went wide of the right one on a header across goal from a corner kick.
Gallese was called into action in the 16th minute, making a sliding save on Griezmann, who ran onto a knockdown pass from Giroud and fizzed a right-footed shot from 12 yards. Peru was still finding its bearings in the second quarter-hour, with Edison Flores dragging a 25-yard effort well wide of the right post.
Paolo Guerrero, getting the start over Farfan after a stellar 30-minute stint off the bench against Denmark, tested Lloris with a sharp-angled shot from 10 yards after a smart lateral pass from the left by Christian Cueva.
Then it was France’s turn to counter, with Mbappe nearly scoring an outrageous goal on a backheel after Pogba sent a perfectly weighted pass into the penalty area over Peru’s back line. Mbappe started a play on the right flank that nearly provided an opportunity for a second goal in the 39th minute, but Giroud could not latch onto a through ball by Griezmann as Gallese ran out to collect it.
Later in the first half, Lucas Fernandez stung Gallese’s gloves with a 10-yard rip from an acute angle, but he put the knockover rebound attempt wide of the right post.
Aquino’s shot off the woodwork set the crowd abuzz, and Peru tested its luck from distance throughout the second half. Andre Carillo went over the bar from 25 yards straight on in the 61st minute, and Luis Advincula did likewise with a left-footed effort seven minutes later.
Carillo caused a nervous moment with a cross in the 74th minute, but Farfan was too deep as his flying volley rippled the side netting. Ousmane Dembele, who entered the game for Mbappe in the 75th minute, narrowly missed sealing the victory eight minutes from time as he hit a low shot just wide of the left post after another knockdown pass from Giroud.
Peru’s last scoring chance came in the 87th minute with a free kick after a foul by Pogba, but while Farfan cleared the wall from 35 yards, he failed to pick out the right corner well enough as Lloris comfortably saved.