Report: France 4 Uzbekistan 0 – Under 20 World Cup
France, second in group A behind Spain, met Uzbekistan, 3rd in group F behind Croatia and Uruguay, in what turned out to be a big mismatch. The Uzbeks were missing several key players due to injury and suspensions (particularly defenders Sardor Rakhmanov and Boburbek Yuldashov), and while their backline defended manfully for a first half-hour in which France managed ten shots for no reward, when their resistance finally broke, it all went horribly wrong from there.
France fans might have been nervous as les Bleuets sent in shot after shot without converting, but when Bahebeck threaded the ball through Abdullaev’s legs to put the chance on a plate for Sanogo, Arsenal’s new signing was not going to miss from close range; he had been particularly threatening, as had Bahebeck. Then Uzbekistan’s desperate defending allowed France to pull further ahead – a penalty on 35 minutes after Shamshitdinov tripped Bahebeck, Pogba converting; then a second on 43 minutes, after a handball from Turapov, which Thauvin put away. Having struggled to make an impact on the tournament after such great things were expected of him, it was good to see him get a goal, although the keeper got a hand to it. France 3 – 0 Uzbekistan at half time, and you could forgive goalkeeper Amanov for staying down after making a save from Sanogo in the last minute of the half. He may just have needed a rest.
France started the second half with the same vim and verve of the first. Amanov, now sporting a plaster across his nose, was called into action to save his side yet again straight from the restart. Shamshitdinov, already booked for his first-half challenge on Bahebeck, was lucky to stay on after two meaty fouls early doors, the referee clearly trying very hard not to send him off. It would have been sensible to remove him, but instead, Uzbekistan tried rejigging the midfield, to little effect; meanwhile Kondogbia was replaced by Axel Ngando.
Just after the hour mark, France made it 4-0. Foulquier won a corner off Ubaydullaev after haring up the right, Digne sent it in, and Zouma was there for the header. Then, from bad to worse for the Uzbeks – having now made all three substitutions, Shamshitdinov went in recklessly again, injuring himself in the process (fortunately not his victim Bahebeck), and finally, inevitably, got sent off. Uzbekistan were left with twenty minutes to play, four goals down, with ten men.
There was a real gulf in class between these teams, so it is a little difficult to assess the match. France dominated, of course – 28 shots to 4 – and while the goalless first thirty minutes made you slightly nervous, faced with a lesser goalkeeper than Asilbev Amanov, they would have been well ahead at that point. Some concern also that it was two penalties that made the match safe; having missed multiple previous chances from open play, one does wonder if the chances stopped by the fouls would have gone begging the same way.
But France kept their heads, kept pressing, pushing, and playing their game. Comfortably up, Mankowski replaced Bahebeck and Digne, both impressive, with Bosetti and Polomat to give his first choices some rest and his back-ups some game-time. Bosetti got in amongst it immediately, with half a dozen chances in his twenty-minute appearance, the pick of which when he shot wide after a beautiful long ball from Pogba from the right. He looked furious not to get on the scoresheet, but his time will come. Another positive was that Polomat was involved in setting up two of those chances. Pogba, leg-strapping notwithstanding, was imperious; Sanogo still inconsistent in his finishing but a constant threat; Thauvin was busy and you get the feeling he will score an absolute screamer at some point.
As a woebegone Uzbekistan started going down with cramp, France were mostly strolling, looking forward to playing Ghana (again) or Chile in the semi-final.