France acting like a team who believe ahead of World Cup semifinals
Ousmane Dembele is standing up on the big table in the middle of the France dressing room in the Nizhny Novgorod stadium. The winger is dancing, jumping and shouting "On est en demie, on est, on est, on est en demie" (we are in the semis, we are, we are, we are in the semis). The rest of the French squad follows him.
Once again, just like after the 4-3 win against Argentina in the last 16, Les Bleus are on fire in their celebrations. France have just beaten Uruguay 2-0 with a clinical performance full of control. It will be the sixth World Cup semifinal the country's history after 1958, 1982, 1986, 1998 and 2006. The first three were lost, the last two won. Right now though, Didier Deschamps and his players are enjoying the moment. A very sweet moment.
Benjamin Mendy didn't play a second against Uruguay. But he is the master of ceremonies for the post-victory party. He is banging on the table with his hand. He screams first and the others repeat each line a few times: "Antoine il a tiré, Antoine il a marqué" (Antoine shot, Antoine scored). And they do the same with "Rapha" for Raphael Varane as Griezmann and Varane are the two goal-scoring heroes of the day.
With one assist and one goal, "Grizou" has delivered. It is his seventh goal in his last six knockout games, in both the European championship and the World Cup. He can't stop smiling and hugging people. Once again, he is sat between Lucas Hernandez and Paul Pogba. They definitely have the crazy side of the dressing room with Presnel Kimpembe, Mendy and Dembele all on the same bench and being in top form as always.
On the other side, it is a lot calmer with the three goalkeepers, Corentin Tolisso, Thomas Lemar, N'Golo Kante, Djibril Sidibe, Nabil Fekir, Benjamin Pavard, Adil Rami and Olivier Giroud.
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Blaise Matuidi was suspended for this game, yet his kit is out like all the other players. It is an unexpected and great touch and means a lot to the Juventus midfielder. It made him feel part of this quarterfinal. Straight after the game, and like he always does, Deschamps says a few words to his players: "I am proud of you, very proud of what you have achieved today. Now we have a semifinal to think of" he tells them before talking about resting, recharging the batteries and going again.
In his mind, the France head coach believes his players are where they belong, amongst the four best teams in the world. He doesn't care who they will face in the semifinals, Brazil or Belgium. Talking about the other quarterfinal of the day, there is one and only one French player watching it live while the others are still celebrating? You guessed right. It is Kylian Mbappe. He is watching it on his phone. The prodigy can never stop thinking about football. He is obsessed with it. But Mbappe is also behind the new lucky ritual of the team.
Back in the 1998 World Cup, Laurent Blanc used to kiss Fabien Barthez's bald head before each France game and it took France all the way. Now 20 years later, Mbappe is caressing Rami's moustache. The PSG striker did it before the Argentina game and went on to score twice and also got a penalty. He told Griezmann, who then did the same before the Uruguay match. Same outcome: Grizou netted one and created one. Rami's moustache is becoming France's ultimate lucky charm.
By the time Les Bleus are back in their hotel, an hour drive northwest of Moscow, it is way past midnight. They know now that they will face Belgium, their neighbours, and many players they know so well and play with at club level, in the semifinal on Tuesday night. Emmanuel Macron, the French president who loves his football, will be in the stadium in St Petersburg to watch it. It is the first time he will attend a game in this World Cup. He called Deschamps straight after the game and the two are regularly in contact. Before the tournament, when the president visited the team at Clairefontaine before they left for Russia, he told them that a good World Cup would only be if they won it.
They are just two matches away from a good World Cup.