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Benzema and Mbappé bury Finland’s World Cup qualification hopes

Benzema wraps up an excellent 2021 with France by scoring in a second-half cameo.


Karim Benzema has enjoyed a dream start in his return to the French national team, with nine goals and two assists in just 13 appearances, including crucial goals in big Euro and Nations League games. To close out his superb year with France, he came in to liven up a dull game against Finland during the second half.

France had already qualified for the World Cup last Saturday in their 8-0 win against Kazakhstan, so manager Didier Deschamps took the chance to do some rotations and experiments in his 3-4-3 scheme. These changes made the French team perform worse than in the Kazakhstan game. Wingbacks Digne and Dubois can’t run and dribble like Theo Hernández and Coman, while Diaby struggled to combine well with Mbappé and Griezmann compared to Benzema. Diaby often preferred to make runs into space, forcing Mbappé to play more in between the lines instead of making his trademark runs.

This tactical context led to a dull first half in which both teams failed to damage each other and create good chances. Mbappé struggled to have more impact in the game, and Griezmann needed more space and teammates who could easily combine with him.

Things changed in the second half, as Deschamps subbed in Coman, Pavard, and Benzema for Koundé, Dubois, and Diaby. With Coman and Mbappé free to make runs now, Coman, France was more aggressive at attacking spaces and threatening the Finnish defense.

In the 66th minute, Mbappé and Benzema combined with devastating effect once again. Coming in from the left and carrying the ball into the box, Benzema passed to Mbappé, who gave him back the ball with a backheel. Benzema now had the space to shoot, and the ball luckily bounced off defender Väisänen into the goal.

Ten minutes after the first goal, Mbappé would sentence the game. Finland had to play more aggressively to get the goals that could qualify them, but Mbappé would take advantage of the ensuing open spaces. Finland pressed aggressively to recover the ball, but Dignesentd a long pass behind the Finnish defense. Mbappé turned on the nitro boosters to leave his marker biting the dust, and just as he entered the box, let loose a perfect curled finish that keeper Hrádecky could not reach.

All in all, France did not play a great game, but their individual quality got the job done as it often does. It would be hard to say that this was a brilliant qualifying phase for France, but the change to a back three in the last few months looks promising. Using the speed and dribbling of players like Coman and Hernández on the wings while leaving Mbappé, Griezmann, and Benzema free to do their thing in the center lanes could be the recipe that finally turns Deschamps’ France into a fun offense.

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