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France's players celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final match against England at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha. Image Credit: AFP

Al Khor: Didier Deschamps made only one late substitution as France beat England 2-1 in a nerve-racking World Cup quarter-final on Saturday, but the defending champions have been carried over the line by an unshakable collective strength in the squad.

Les Bleus’ main weakness was their lack of solutions from the bench and Deschamps only sent Kingsley Coman in for Ousmane Dembele in the 79th minute just after Olivier Giroud headed home what turned out to be the winner at the Al Bayt stadium.

It was just enough as England captain Harry Kane missed an 84th minute penalty that would have made it 2-2 and Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp free kick went just over, but Giroud insisted the France players drew energy from the substitutes.

Four goals

“We worked all together. The guys on the bench pushed us so much,” the 36-year-old France record scorer Giroud, who has now netted four goals in Qatar, told a news conference.

“It reminds me of the spirit of 2018. I hope we’ll go as far as possible because this squad deserve beautiful things,” he added, in a reference to their triumphant Russia campaign, when they basked in collective joy throughout the tournament.

“We’ve had a visit from the sports minister, the federation president, but also from (1998 World Cup winner) Lilian Thuram and (2006 World Cup runner-up) Claude Makelele. It was beautiful to see all these faces full of joy, those generations celebrating together.” Deschamps, who won the World Cup as France captain in 1998 and as coach in 2018, insisted the great atmosphere within the French camp was what helped them to keep their composure when they were being overwhelmed by a “superb England team”.

“We have a lot of qualities, but also some great mental strength, and experience. I have also young players but there is a collective force that drives the whole group,” he said.

“In important games like tonight’s, that’s what makes the difference.” France are now on course to become the first team to retain their title since Brazil in 1962, but Deschamps refused to think past Wednesday’s semi-final against surprise package Morocco, who are the first African team ever to reach the last four.

“We’re in the semis, we’re not picturing ourselves lifting the trophy,” he said.

“There’s other steps and it starts on Wednesday. Let’s be happy with what we’ve done tonight even if it’s not enough. At least we broke the (defending champions’) curse,” he added.

Last four

The last four world champions from Europe failed to even get past the group stage at the following World Cup.

Morocco went through to the semi-finals by beating Portugal 1-0 earlier on Saturday and will prove a tough nut to crack, having conceded only one goal in the tournament.

“What this team have achieved against Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, I can only say bravo - to the players but also the coach (Walid Regragui), the staff,” said Deschamps.

“It’s not a surprise anymore to see them here. They didn’t steal their results. Always give credit to the team who win and qualify.”