France can no longer successfully defend their Nations League crown after Monday’s 1-0 home defeat to Croatia left the finals beyond their reach.
Didier Deschamps’ side had flattered to deceive in their first three matches this month, losing once and drawing the other two, and they were no better against a stubborn Croatia at the Stade de France.
They proved to be their own worst enemy with a needless early penalty concession that Luka Modric took full advantage of five minutes in.
The hosts’ performance was full of bluster but lacked subtlety.
With clear-cut chances difficult to come by on another disappointing day for the reigning world champions.
Ibrahima Konate was the guilty party for the penalty as the Liverpool defender clumsily tripped Ante Budimir.
And after a long VAR review, Modric just about squeezed his kick past Mike Maignan.
The game became frantic as Les Bleus desperately searched for a leveller.
But Ivica Ivusic was not forced into a meaningful save until early in the second half.
When substitute Aurelien Tchouameni shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It was a sign of renewed purpose, however, and Kylian Mbappe saw a 30-yard strike go agonisingly wide a few moments later.
Yet, Croatia ended up creating better chances in the closing stages, with Lovro Majer and Nikola Vlasic forcing saves from Maignan as the visitors gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final loss.
FRANCE (4-4-2): Mike Maignan; Jules Kounde, Ibrahima Konate, Presnel Kimpembe (c), Lucas Digne; Adrien Rabiot, Boubacar Kamara, Matteo Guendouzi, Christopher Nkunku; Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe.
CROATIA (4-3-3): Ivica Ivusic; Josip Stanisic, Martin Erlic, Josip Sutalo, Josip Juranovic; Luka Modric (c), Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic; Mario Pasalic, Ante Budimir, Josip Brekalo.
GOAL! FRANCE 0-1 CROATIA! Croatia’s captain Modric steps up and smashes his kick towards the bottom left corner of the net. Maignan dives the right way and gets a hand to the shot, but not a strong enough one to keep it out!
So, what’s next?
Croatia will face Denmark in September and France will face Austria.
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