Costa Rica
Match 25
Game Details
Match 24
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Match 26
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12:00 PM UTC Jun 23, 2018
Match 29
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South Korea
6:00 PM UTC Jun 23, 2018
Match 28
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3:00 PM UTC Jun 23, 2018
Match 27
Game Details

Can France's late goals give them the confidence to win Euro 2016?

After Albania finally succumbed to the inevitable on Wednesday and France picked up their second win in succession thanks to late goals -- as substitute Antoine Griezmann followed Dimitri Payet's brilliant winner against Romania by heading in the key strike -- Didier Deschamps praised his side's performance in a predictable way. He lionised their spirit and relentlessness.

"It was a very emotional moment to score a goal," the French manager said following the hosts' 2-0 win. "It shows the players are prepared to keep working right to the end."

There is a very obvious flipside to that, though, which raises the question whether they can go and win this tournament. Does the fact France needed to fight right until the end show that something is not working in their team?

It is the curious thing with late goals: on the one hand, they show a drive and belief that can lift teams above their level and help develop an ingrained cohesion that aids team spirit. On the other, the "emotion" that Deschamps spoke of can cloud the fact that it a temporary solution to a problem that could cost them dearly in the end.

So, what is it with France?

Will these goals foster the kind of spirit that can only come in a tournament and was impossible to properly create in two years of friendlies? Or does it point to issues with the team that Deschamps badly needs to fix before they play sides better than moderate outfits like Romania and Albania, starting with Sunday's game in Lille against Switzerland?

France's first two matches exposed a few elements that need to be looked at. It also sums up the contradiction of a tournament buildup, especially if you don't have to qualify as hosts.

Deschamps spent two years trying to figure out and hone a best team for this competition, but had to reconsider almost all of it by the second game. N'Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet weren't even sure of a squad place three months ago, for example, but have now become certain starters. Otherwise, the midfield looks imbalanced and Deschamps has a big decision to make about the striking position too.

The manager was even considering Les Bleus' best team could come without two of their biggest stars, Paul Pogba and Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid forward's key goal should banish any ideas that France are better without him, and there is a strong argument Deschamps should abandon the idea of always having to play an aerial forward like Olivier Giroud and Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Making a fast player the focal point could facilitate more nimble football, rather than the stodgy stuff that has been evident in their games so far. It could also better suit a three-man midfield of Kante, Pogba and Blaise Matuidi that haven't yet looked a good fit -- especially Pogba. Having a faster forward ahead of him may release the full benefits of the Juventus midfielder's running game.

Some of the hesitation in France's game may come from the fact the players don't know each other well enough in this specific system yet, and don't trust it in the way they do their club sides.

This is where late goals become important. They help foster the belief that something is right -- bringing more confidence and assurance -- and improve the level of application in almost everything the team does.

France legend Marcel Desailly told ESPN FC before the tournament that was the case with the 1998 World Cup-winning team. They didn't score the same amount of late goals, but did have what he described as large slices of "luck." Luck that helped to gradually erode multiple problems within that team too.

"It took very long for the team to believe, probably from the quarterfinal," he said. "The key element is getting luck. So we have South Africa first, then [Zinedine] Zidane got the red card [against Saudi Arabia], Thierry Henry takes over and it still works, Laurent Blanc scores the golden goal against Paraguay to make the difference, Italy on penalties, [Lilian] Thuram never scores and he suddenly comes from nowhere to score two against Croatia. The same for the final, Zidane -- who did not appear -- then, bang, brings the extra."

These late goals can facilitate the "extra" at Euro 2016. Desailly also believes it can deepen the team's experience, given the current side are younger than 1998 and lack the same number of leaders.

"The ability is higher [now] than what we were having," he added. "I believe that technically, [Laurent] Koscielny are better than me, you understand, but you need the experience, the cleverness to be used in high competition. They have the same potential that we had but it needs a bit of time for them to build that."

France might well build it thanks to goals that have come just in time in their last two games. Rather than reflecting something broken, they can mentally fix this side and give them the confidence that they can go all the way on home soil again.

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


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