When Kylian Mbappe stepped up to take France’s fifth penalty in the shootout against Switzerland, there was an inkling that something did not feel right.
Sure, the forward had just played 120 minutes of football in an absorbing game that finished 3-3. But while he did set up Karim Benzema for his first goal of the night, he had failed to find the net again.
The 22-year-old usually oozes confidence when he picks up the ball and takes it towards goal. But the weight of expectation pulled him down into the ground and with every chance he missed, the pressure grew on him and France.
It was the same scenario in the shootout. Mbappe never looked like scoring — an odd look for a man who had scored 42 goals for Paris Saint-Germain this season, but none at Euro 2020 for France.
The belief had been sapped from his feet and Yann Sommer guessed where he wanted to place his effort correctly, springing to his right to palm away his poorly-struck penalty.
France were out. The world champions, who had been highly fancied to win the tournament, had failed to get reach the quarter-finals. Mbappe bowed his head, perhaps half in disappointment but also in relief as well. His misery was finally over.
But for France, the threat of a fallout had been brewing for the best part of two weeks before the tournament — and their early exit in Bucharest only exacerbated their problems.
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Kylian Mbappe vs Olivier Giroud
Before the tournament had even started, France seemed to be in disarray. Quite how a row had erupted between Mbappe and Olivier Giroud over such a small matter is anyone’s guess, but it was a problem.
The PSG star was unhappy with accusations from Giroud that he had refused to pass the ball to him during a warm-up victory over Bulgaria.
In truth, it was all about bruised egos and nothing more. But the pair refused to let it go and the war of words continued.
“It’s not what he said,” Mbappe said. “Frankly, what he said doesn’t bother me. I’m a striker and it’s an opinion. He is expressing an opinion when he speaks. It doesn’t bother me.
“I’m a striker and I’ve had this feeling 365 times in a game and I will have it again, when you feel you’re not getting the service [of the ball]. It’s more about making it public.
Captain Hugo Lloris attempted to play down the incident as nothing more than a disagreement, but it had played out for several days in the press.
“Mbappe and Giroud they had maybe a short discussion but that’s normal – it’s nothing unusual,” the Tottenham goalkeeper said.
Even if he claimed the camp were still united heading into the European Championships, the cracks in the foundations were starting to show.
Dressing room inquest
France have been known to self-destruct in the past after the infamous fallout in the 2010 World Cup.
But there was a sense that their World Cup triumph in Russia in three years ago had eradicated any murmurs of discontent. However, the events on Monday night proved that was not the case.
According to reports from France, Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot were involved in a bust-up in the dressing after the match, with the pair exchanging verbal insults.
Rabiot was thought to be less pleased with Pogba’s defensive contributions, even though it was a commonly-held view that the Manchester United star was their best player of the tournament.
Defenders Raphael Varane and Benjamin Pavard also reportedly got involved in an argument, with Varane insulting Pavard about his defending.
The Bayern Munich star is then said to have placed the blame on Pogba for his lack of defending, with Varane later agreeing with Pavard’s assessment.
Didier Deschamps moved quickly to cool the war of words, although he admitted Pogba had been left fuming with Rabiot’s comments.
“He had to be calmed down a bit,” the coach said of the Manchester United midfielder,
“It really hurts, there’s a lot of sadness and, well, there were many things that we did really well in this match, but not everything and if we think too much about this match it won’t help too much.
“This Euro was really difficult, it’s not an excuse, and now there’s the last European champion and the last world champion who have to go home, it hurts but we have to accept it.”
The events in the stands in front of the 23,000 fans in Bucharest can only be described as extraordinary, such is the rarity of it happening at a senior match — let alone Euro 2020.
According to RMC Sport, Rabiot’s mother Veronique allegedly clashed with the families of Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe in the stands.
Footage emerged on social media apparently showing Veronique Rabiot gesticulating towards the families of other France players after Les Bleus’ shock exit from Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland.
It appeared that the parents were merely replicating the players’ actions in the dressing room: attributing blame, speaking out of pure frustration and showing a complete lack of unity — only this was for the world to see.
Regardless of what was said, it was another unwanted incident for the French to summarise the split loyalties in their camp, and it may take some effort and time to repair relations.
It is no wonder managers are so meticulous in their preparation for tournaments nowadays. Every detail has to be right to ensure success, from the formation on the pitch to finding a luxurious hotel for the players to settle into.
But France did not have the luxury of choosing the latter and it contributed to the unhappy mood. L’Equipe reports how the constant movement from one hotel to another caused them to become unsettled, in addition to not being able to see their families due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Having seen England, Italy and Spain enjoying home comforts for the group stages, France have been required to travel to Munich, Budapest and Bucharest for their matches.
As a result, the players have not been able to stay at one base for the tournament like other nations and have been left unimpressed with the conditions of their accommodation, such as the Marriott Hotel in Budapest, which reportedly did not have openable windows.
It is even claimed by the French outlet that Pogba had requested to stay 50km away at a facility in Gardony at a facility, which included a lake in its surroundings. But the squad stayed at the Marriott, which would have no doubt caused some friction.