France's future bright despite exit
The dust has settled a little now. The disappointment is still there, they have a few regrets, but the French players are going home. On Saturday evening, they will land at Bourget airport, near Paris, and each of the 23 squad members and staff will go their own way. Their World Cup is finished, the dream is over. It has been a good ride, though, a very positive six weeks, but the way France went out has left the bitter taste in the mouth of the players and the fans.
The meeting with Germany was the first big hurdle in the competition for Les Bleus, and it was a high one, definitely too high, on every level, for this team. Mentally, the Germans have a psychological advantage on the French when it comes to competitive games. Physically, they were fresher, fitter and suffered less than Didier Deschamps' men. Technically, their three-man midfield taught their French counterparts -- Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi -- a tough lesson.
Crucially, the lack of experience from this young French team compared with the Germans made a big difference. Before kickoff, the German starting XI had played 75 more World Cup games than the France starting XI. It was evident in the way Joachim Low's players controlled the game and never panicked. They were accustomed to playing high-pressure matches while French nerves wracked the French camp.
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France's youth and naivety were also exposed on the goal where Raphael Varane was too easily beaten by Mats Hummels on the sole goal of the game. The conditions (heat and humidity) were also a problem for the French to chase the game, which was necessary after going behind so early. Overall, there is a sense, shared by the players I spoke to, that France lost without playing.
They were disappointed. They showed no urgency in the second half and no fluidity in their game. What's interesting is that they hardly took advantage of the famous high-defensive German line despite it being their Plan A without much of a Plan B. They should have tried to vary their game more rather than constantly trying to go long and in behind the Germany back four. And the few times they were in good position, they simply were not clinical enough.
The Germans, once again, taught us a good lesson. Just like the semifinals of 1982 (when they lost 5-4 on penalties) and 1986 (when they lost 2-0). While Friday's game has its similarities with that of Mexico '86, after that disappointing night in Guadalajara, France went through a long and terrible period of misfortune and hardship -- not even qualifying for the 1988 European Championship, and the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
This time is different. Though Germany still look well ahead of France, the future is bright and promising for the French. The team will learn a lot from this defeat. For Varane, Pogba, Antoine Griezmann (who was inconsolable after the match), Mamadou Sakho and Matuidi, it has been a great learning curve.
For this squad, it was the very first quarterfinal in a big competition and next time they play one, they will know how to deal with it. The whole experience of this World Cup, the way the squad lived together for six weeks, its relationship with Deschamps, the newly found passion and love from the French fans for their national team, the confidence and the momentum it has brought French football overall is golden for the future. This World Cup has kicked off a new dawn for French football.
Brazil has also been a great experience for Deschamps. Praised up to this quarterfinal, he totally failed in his head-to-head with Low. Just like his players, Deschamps suffered from a lack of experience compared with the German head coach. Low outplayed him before the game. Deschamps, naively, didn't seem to anticipate that his counterpart would change so many things in his team and had no contingency once Plan A didn't work. He got it wrong in his coaching during the game, too. He took too long to make his substitutions, made the wrong ones when he made them, and overall he never managed to inspire a comeback from his players in the second half. He should also arguably take blame for a lack of urgency from his charges.
Knowing him well, he would not have liked what happened on Friday, he will reflect on it for a long time, and he will make sure that he comes out of it stronger and that he never makes the same mistakes again. But, now, what's next for Deschamps and his Bleus? Few people criticised the head coach for saying that he was preparing for Euro 2016 with this World Cup. There was nothing wrong in that. It was impossible for France to win this World Cup. As we saw on Friday, the players and the manager were neither ready nor good enough for it.
However, 2016 is a realistic objective. All the experience picked up in Brazil will be useful, the players will be two years older and will benefit from two more seasons in their top clubs. For Deschamps, over the next two years, he will profit from the friendly games France will take part in to sharpen their playing style, he will try different things and get the team in perfect shape, on top form and in a tactical place for the start of Euro 2016.
This clash with Germany came too early. In two years' time, at home, France will be ready to take on anyone. On Friday, Les Bleus measured the gap between them and the big guns of world football. Two years is enough to have a chance to join them in the elite.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.