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France's goalkeeper Mike Maignan has stepped up superbly during this Euro 2024 Championships. Image Credit: AFP

Dusseldorf: Kylian Mbappe and France’s attack might be misfiring, but a solid foundation can be more important at a major tournament and an outstanding defence has helped carry them to the quarter-finals of Euro 2024.

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Les Bleus have scored only three times in four games so far at the European Championship, once from a penalty by Mbappe and twice via opposition defenders, including Jan Vertonghen’s own goal, which sealed a 1-0 win over Belgium in the last 16 on Monday.

However, France kept a third clean sheet in a tournament in which they have let in a solitary goal, a penalty by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski.

Not conceding a goal

“We have been really solid defensively and that is essential at this level,” said coach Didier Deschamps after the victory against Belgium in Duesseldorf, which sent France into the quarter-finals for the sixth time in the last seven major tournaments with Portugal up next.

“We have come a long way in that regard. It’s not just about defending well, because you also need to use the ball well from the back and we did that. We are doing everything we can to not concede a goal.”

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French head coach Didier Deschamps celebrates his team's win over Belgium in the round of 16 stage. Image Credit: AFP

France’s defensive performance in Germany is remarkable because Deschamps lost two key members of his back line after the 2022 World Cup, when they lost on penalties to Argentina in the final.

Captain Hugo Lloris, who had been the first-choice goalkeeper for over a decade, retired from international football following that tournament along with centre-back Raphael Varane.

Lloris’s place in goal has been taken by Mike Maignan of AC Milan, and the 28-year-old has stepped up superbly.

Against Belgium he made three vital saves, including two from Kevin De Bruyne, and even the penalty he conceded against Lewandowski was a retake after he saved the first effort but had stepped a fraction off his line before the ball was struck.

Saliba earns his place

The back four in front of Maignan has remained unchanged, with Arsenal’s William Saliba and Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano in the middle, Barcelona’s Jules Kounde on the right and Theo Hernandez of AC Milan on the left.

“They are top-level players,” said Deschamps. “They deserve the credit, but you just need to look at the clubs they play for.”

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Defender Dayot Upamecano has been one of the top performers for France in the Euro 2024 Image Credit: AFP

Deschamps also pointed out that this was not even his defence during qualifying, when Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konate was a first pick and the likes of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard also featured.

Saliba may have been outstanding for Arsenal in the Premier League, but his only start in qualifying came away to Greece after France’s place at the Euros had been secured.

Grown in stature

He has now taken over from Konate and has grown in stature as the games have gone on.

No other team left in the tournament has as impressive a defensive record as France, with Spain having at least let in one goal from open play.

However, few sides have needed to be as strong at the back given France’s travails in attack.

“That doesn’t put extra pressure on the defence,” said Kounde, France’s man of the match against Belgium.

“If we are so solid at the back it is because we are working so well as a team.”

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French defender Jules kounde, who vies with Belgium's Jeremy Doku, earned the player of the match award in the last 16 clash. Image Credit: AFP

Deschamps has in the past been criticised for not making a France side full of wonderful talent more exciting to watch.

Yet they scored 16 goals and conceded eight in seven games at the last World Cup.

Their run to victory at the 2018 World Cup featured a 4-3 win against Argentina and the 4-2 defeat of Croatia in the final.

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Kylian Mbappe celebrates after France entered the quarter-finals, where the Les Bleus will face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on Friday. Image Credit: AFP

Italy's winning model

France have shown they can score goals, but might also look to Italy at the last Euros as an example of how defensive solidity can be so important.

Italy did not concede a goal in the group stage in 2021, and let in just four in four matches after that as they went on to win the trophy.

Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni is not worried about style as long as France keep winning in Germany.

“It doesn’t matter if we score three goals or 15 goals. We are still in the competition,” he said after Monday’s match.