How Adrien Rabiot emerged as France’s unlikely World Cup saviour amid midfield injury crisis

DOHA – Didier Deschamps listened intently to the question. A benign smile crossed his face, his lips pursed a bit and then finally, he answered.

The inquisitor was the man from L’Equipe and he wanted to know what Deschamps was planning to do to tweak the right side of a defence that had wobbled briefly against Australia. Right-back Benjamin Pavard looked uncomfortable against pace, conceding opportunities to willing but limited opponents. France won 4-1, in case you’d missed it. Such are the standards when you’re the defending world champions.

“I’m the coach,” Deschamps smirked. “I can do what I like. I can do anything.”

Crisis-time for the holders? Not a bit of it. Injury might have forced him to pop the bonnet of his midfield engine room and do some tinkering before the tournament kicked off but France purred quite nicely without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, two pistons of that impressively efficient 2018 win.

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Worryingly for the rest of the world, it has also given them a bit of a siege mentality, bonding a squad that has more than enough talent to go very deep in the tournament out here in the desert.

Deschamps said the atmosphere in the camp was as good as he’d known, perhaps because the short lead up hadn’t given his players time to “get bored of each other yet”. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris agreed, citing the injection of youth into the group as one of the reasons why positivity abounds at their training base, which doubles up as a luxury spa when the World Cup circus isn’t in town.

“If we want to go far in this tournament we do need to have a good team spirit within the camp with positive vibes and right approach. That is the case despite challenges we’ve had,” he said.

“We have a lot of young players who are taking the initiative, doing that little bit extra – extra fitness work after the sessions end – which shows they are determined to do well for the team.”

Deschamps has just 10 of the men who won the last World Cup and there’s still a feeling that he will have to adjust this team as he goes along.

Ousmane Dembele offered stout defensive work alongside his attacking output and looks set to continue while Adrien Rabiot was a revelation in a central role.

Unheralded and frankly unwanted by a majority of Manchester United fans when the club showed transfer interest, he looked excellent against Australia. Lloris believes this could be “his time”.

France enjoyed a winning start to their World Cup (Photo: Getty)

“A lot has been said about the absence of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante who have been vital engines in midfield for some years now but you tend to forget there are players who will step up and take responsibility in their absence,” the Tottenham goalkeeper said.

“You get players who are the right age, the right experience. Adrien has that profile. We know about his qualities, what he’s been doing at Juve.

“It’s an opportunity for him at this World Cup and it’s coming at the right time for him. He showed against Australia, when we were thrown by that goal, he stepped up and gave an assist.

“That shows the impact he can have on French team. We know how talented he is but he’s also a very hard worker, he’s very technically gifted, a very elegant player and I’m sure he’s going to be able to help our team go as far as possible.”

France will qualifying for the last 16 if they defeat Denmark, but the latter had the better of them over two Nations League matches.

“I said a number of times they are underestimated,” said Deschamps. “We’ve assessed them and can learn from our experiences in the past.”

No drama from this blue corner of Qatar is ominous for the rest. “Perfection doesn’t exist, but we try to get closer to it,” Deschamps said.

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