France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni is not fazed about juggling the responsibilities usually reserved for injured stalwarts Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante after helping Les Bleus to the World Cup final.
Didier Deschamps’ side beat Morocco 2-0 at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday to secure their spot in Sunday’s showpiece against Argentina.
It ensured France became the first nation to reach back-to-back World Cup finals since Brazil in 2002 as they – somewhat unconvincingly – managed to end Morocco’s fairytale run.
The build-up to France’s World Cup defence was dominated by talk of the so-called ‘holders’ curse’ given each of the previous three defending champions had been eliminated at the group stage.
Pre-tournament confidence was also dented by injuries to several key players, with Karim Benzema, Pogba and Kante all missing out.
Yet on Sunday, they could become the first European country to win successive World Cups since Italy in 1938, with Tchouameni playing an important part in a new-look midfield.
Asked whether the Pogba or Kante role suits him best, he replied: “It’s both!
“Sometimes it’s [my job] to recover some balls like today, and sometimes I have the opportunities to score a goal, like the last game.
“Or today when I had the almost-assists for Kylian [Mbappe] and Olivier [Giroud]. It’s a mix between those two [Pogba and Kante].”
He added: “[Pogba and Kante] are great players for us.
“Unfortunately they’re not here because they’re injured, so we try to do our best to help the team in the middle of the pitch, and I think we do a great job.”
Tchouameni’s influence was highlighted by the fact his 65 touches were the joint-highest in the France team, while only Antoine Griezmann (four) played more key passes than his two.
Although his 83 per cent passing accuracy suggests a degree of wastefulness, the Real Madrid talent showed purpose in terms of ball progression, with his eight passes in the final third only behind Kylian Mbappe and Youssouf Fofana (both nine). A riskier approach is always likely to result in less accurate distribution.
Nevertheless, he did not neglect his defensive responsibilities, tallying the second-most interceptions (four) on the pitch (Ibrahima Konate – six) and joint-highest number of recoveries (10).
Alongside Fofana, Tchouameni was part of a particularly inexperienced midfield pairing, but Deschamps believes both have proven they belong at this level.
“Experience isn’t everything, they have great qualities and play with top clubs,” the coach told reporters.
“They may not have much experience at the international level, but they are good enough to play at this level.
“They have tremendous potential, tremendous quality – and they are supported by the experienced players around them.
“All of the players struggled against Tunisia – Fofana had a bad game, if I’m honest with you – but he showed today, in a World Cup semi-final, that he has learned from that experience.
“Tchouameni played for us at a very young age and went to Madrid where he’s slotted straight in.
“Of course, there’s room for improvement, but he has all the strength to succeed at this level. I had no doubt about playing both of them in there, though, as they had experienced players around them.”