How Raphael Varane helped France to a second straight final

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FRANCE 3 POLAND 1 (ROUND OF 16)

“We are in the round of 16 of the World Cup, we are living a dream but this dream can end at any time if we continue like this.”

That’s allegedly the team talk given by Varane at half-time of France’s first do-or-die tie, just moments after Giroud had given them the lead with his record 52nd France goal. It was a reminder of Varane’s seniority and leadership skills, even at the age of 29, and carried extra gravitas as he’d been forced to make a superb block from Piotr Zielinski with the game still goalless.

Rapha’s words of wisdom clearly did the job, with Mbappe’s powerful brace ensuring Les Bleus ran out comfortable winners, before Robert Lewandowki’s late consolation from the spot. Deschamps’ side were beginning to look ominous, especially with Varane completing 90 minutes for the first time since October.

FRANCE 2 ENGLAND 1 (QUARTER-FINALS)

This was a mouthwatering clash of tournament titans, as well as a head-to-head between Reds, at Al Bayt Stadium, with many tipping the winner to go on and claim the trophy. France were unchanged from their Poland win and seized the early impetus, with Tchouameni’s 25-yard drive beating Jordan Pickford in the England goal. Les Bleus then sat back and relied on their defensive solidity as England rallied, but the Three Lions eventually equalised through Harry Kane’s 54th-minute penalty – awarded for a foul by Tchouameni on the impressive Bukayo Saka.

It then looked as though Gareth Southgate’s side would grab the game by the scruff of the neck, but another brilliant Griezmann assist – this time for Giroud – swung the game back in the holders’ favour. England had another chance from the spot six minutes from time, but Kane blazed over this time and Varane and co saw out a fraught 10 minutes of added time to clinch a semi-final berth.

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