No Karim Benzema? No N’Golo Kante? No Paul Pogba? No Christopher Nkunku? No problem – especially when you have Olivier Giroud.
Not since Brazil in 1962 has a nation defended their World Cup crown. In Qatar, reigning titleholders France are fashioning a chance to join elite company after reaching the semifinals and a date with surprise packages Morocco.
Didier Deschamps may be shorn of certain key players, but Les Bleus nevertheless flexed their muscles thanks to two beneficiaries of a star-studded absentee list: Aurelien Tchouameni and all-time top goalscorer Giroud, who would likely have lost their starting berths to Pogba and Benzema had they been fit.
Kylian Mbappe kept quiet
With all the pre-match talk of how the Three Lions would stop Kylian Mbappe, it was instead Tchouameni who opened the scoring with a sharp drive from range that took the sting out of England’s early promise and noisy fans.
Supporters of the Three Lions vastly outnumbered France fans inside the Al Bayt Stadium, built like a Bedouin tent in the desert.
England were largely camped inside France’s half for the rest of the first period but lacked conviction with the final pass or shot.
Tchouameni was then again involved when, after England fans were angered by some contentious decisions from referee Wilton Pereira Sampaio in the first half, a challenge on Bukayo Saka early in the second saw England awarded a penalty.
Harry Kane dispatched it to draw level with Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time top goal scorer.
But it was to be the French record holder who would decide the game. Giroud met the excellent Antoine Griezmann’s cross and planted a late header beyond Jordan Pickford for his fourth goal of the tournament and 53rd of his international career – spookily the same number as Kane.
“It was a great cross and afterwards the feeling was indescribable,” Giroud told reporters. “We have the same spirit as 2018.”
He added: “It’s extraordinary. We worked really well defensively. I’m very proud of this team and I hope we can go as far as possible.”
England were afforded the chance to equalize again from the spot late on, but when Kane sent his penalty soaring over the bar, France held firm to book their ticket to Wednesday’s semifinal with former colony Morocco in Qatar.
The pressure of the moment and the chance to be England’s outright record scorer seemed to get to the Tottenham’s Kane, who uncharacteristically seemed to lose his cool.
Otherwise strong display
It brought back horrible memories for England fans. Chris Waddle also cleared the crossbar by some distance when England lost the 1990 semifinal in a shootout to West Germany.
Kane – so often linked with Bayern Munich in recent months – was inconsolable at the end as the England supporters stood and applauded an otherwise strong display.
“As you would expect he is very low. He has nothing to reproach himself for,” England coach Gareth Southgate, coy about his own future in the job, told a news conference.
“For us no recriminations, we have always stuck together. We win and lose as a team,” added Southgate, who reckoned having to take a second spotkick against his Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris made it extra tricky.
“He is the best. But the best are going to miss at times.”
France march on but will know they were not at their best. Morocco, the first African side ever in a World Cup semifinal, will think they have a chance on Wednesday if France labour again as they did at times here.
And when they really needed him, up popped Giroud. He became a top player in England with Arsenal and also had a spell with Chelsea. The Milan striker returned to haunt the nation he long called home. The missed penalty meanwhile will haunt Kane for the rest of his career.
In the battle of the top scorers, Giroud reigned supreme.
additional reporting by James Thorogood