Didier Deschamps revealed he had to act swiftly in the first half of the World Cup final to avoid France falling further behind.
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Argentina dominated in the first half of the final at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday evening, racing into a two-goal lead as France were overwhelmed.
Lionel Messi fired home from the penalty spot after Dembele had fouled Angel Di Maria in the box, and then the Juventus star was on hand to sweep home the second after a fine move which included Messi, Julian Alvarez and Mac Allister, with the Brighton star teeing up Di Maria to finish.
Deschamps acted decisively four minutes before the break when he withdrew both Dembele and Olivier Giroud, bringing on Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.
Those changes served to stabilise the 2018 world champions, and France would fight their way back into the match with Thuram and Muani both backing up the efforts of Mbappe.
Mbappe scored from the spot in the 80th minute after Thuram had been fouled by Otamendi, before getting a second barely a minute later to spark delirious scenes.
Chances then came and went in a shocking final, and after further goals from Messi and Mbappe took the game to penalties, it was Argentina who emerged winners.
Things could have been much worse for France though, and manager Deschamps said he had to act when he did in order to avoid his team going 3-0 down before the break.
“If we had been 3-0 down, we couldn’t have complained,” said Deschamps after the match.
“We didn’t do the right things for an hour, but then with a lot of courage, energy and quality, we pushed Argentina to the limit.
“If I made those changes so early, it’s because I was not satisfied and I felt convinced we could do better. “That doesn’t mean the players who went off were more guilty than the others.”
The French squad came into the game with several players having suffered from a virus in the build-up to the final, and Deschamps admitted that had been an issue with their preparation.
“The whole squad has been facing a tricky situation for a while now,” he said.
“Maybe that had a physical or psychological impact. But I had no concerns about the players who started the match: they were 100% fit.
“We only had four days since the last match so there was some tiredness, perhaps. That’s not an excuse, we just didn’t have the same energy as in the previous match and that’s why, for the first hour or so, we weren’t in the match.”