Kylian Mbappé and France can't score, but they're still semifinalists. That's scary.

Kylian Mbappé and France can't score, but they're still semifinalists. That's scary.

Updated Jul. 6, 2024 8:55 a.m. ET

At the last World Cup, France scored so often and in so many different ways that it wasn't a case of if the next one was coming.

It was all about when, and how, and from whom — although the answer to the last part of the question was usually "Kylian Mbappé.

There were near-range headers, the timing of them so satisfyingly crisp as to demand a rewatch. There were lofted balls into space to set things up, cutbacks and darting runs and seamless precision.

There was Mbappé lining up rockets from the edge of the box and even bundling one in off his hip joint, Aurélien Tchouaméni baffling England from long-distance, and acrobatics requiring yogi-level flexibility from Theo Hernández.


And, of course, there was Mbappé's heroics in the final — in the history of soccer, has anyone ever played better in defeat? — capping off a tournament haul of 16 goals total, even more than eventual winner Argentina.

To state the blindingly obvious, France knows how to score. So then, as Euro 2024 winds down and a monumental semifinal against Spain beckons (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), why can't it manage to do so?

"We need to score more goals," head coach Didier Deschamps told reporters in the wake of his team's penalty shootout win against Portugal, the last European Championship appearance of Cristiano Ronaldo's career.

"When you score more goals, you can manage things. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of our opponents."

More goals? How about some goals. 

Kylian Mbappé: Top moments vs. Portugal | Player Cam | UEFA Euro 2024

No French player has scored from open play to date, and of the three scores in France's "for" tally, two of them have been own goals, of which there have been a startling number at this tournament.

The only exception was Mbappé's penalty in a 1-1 tie with already eliminated Poland. Eight hours of play in the books, and none of the dynamic maneuvers and clinical finishes that were on such open display in Qatar.

They have Mbappé masked and full of intent, although hindered by his injury. They have veteran and 2018 World Cup standout Antoine Griezmann, plus the sprightliness of Randal Kolo Muani, the creativity of Ousmane Dembélé, the strength of Marcus Thuram, the youth of Bradley Barcola, plus N'Golo Kanté running all over the place to ensure a glut of possession. Goals galore, surely. Nope.

In one sense, it is remarkable and impressive that any team, let alone one loaded with attacking talent, can have reached a semifinal of the second-strongest tournament in the world with such stats. 

France has scored only as many in total as long-forgotten group stage departees Poland, Czechia, Albania and Croatia. Germany managed 11 compared to its three, and is done. Mbappé returned from a broken nose sustained in the opener, but came off during extra time against Portugal through tiredness, and Griezmann has been a shadow of his usual self. And yet, they're still here.

"Not everything has been done perfectly," Deschamps added. "We just keep going, and when things need to tilt the right way, we have this capacity over time. I would like to seize this moment and make the most of it.

"For various reasons, Kylian and Antoine are not playing their best football compared to what they know they can do. But the situation is not the same. 

"Of course, both are supposed to make us more efficient, and we lack efficiency. But we are hanging in there. They are part of a team and as well as the football qualities they have, there is also the team strength that is still alive."

The flip side is that France hasn't conceded any from open play either, the only goal against it coming when Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty for Poland in the third group game.

The clinical nature of the five successful penalty kicks on Friday night, even though shootouts are a different deal, made you wonder how this is a team unable to stick it in the net while the clock is ticking.

Deschamps has been in charge of Les Bleus for the past 12 years and the persistence of their ability to get to the back end of major tournaments is striking. Neutrals have long marveled at the different ways in which they've done it, via individual brilliance, collective will, new age tactics, old school non-complication, and more.

Doing it without its elite troupe of scorers actually scoring, though? 

That's a new one, in some ways strange, and, for everyone else left, in some ways scary. Because what happens when they inevitably get things right?

Was Cristiano Ronaldo's final Euro tournament with Portugal a success or failure? | SOTU

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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