Here are some key points that will help France win another World Cup title

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — France is looking to become the first country to successfully defend its World Cup Didier Deschamps was the first coach to lead his team to back to back championships in 60 years.

Can they win against Argentina?

Deschamps has proved to be smart, pragmatic, open to tactical changes and flexible throughout his decade as a manager.

At his disposal he has a talented and cohesive squad led by forward Kylian Mbappé, the star of France’s World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago.

These are the keys to repeating this feat at Lusail Stadium Sunday.

MBAPPE’S SPEECH

Mbappé’s speed, strength and shooting accuracy are proven threats and have him on track at 23 to one day become the all-time leading scorer at the World Cup. To the four goals he scored in Russia, Mbappe has now scored five goals in Qatar.

One of the defining breakout images of Mbappé at that tournament in Russia was the foot race that earned France a penalty against Argentina in the round of 16.

But he is not the only threat. Olivier Giroud, the French center forward, has overtaken Thierry Henry as the top scorer for France’s national team. Giroud has scored four goals in Qatar so far.

In the semifinals, Morocco exposed how to exploit France’s left wing and Mbappé’s relative lack of protection for his defense. Argentina has a quick, attack-minded wing back in Nahuel Molina who — if he plays in a similar role to Achraf Hakimi for Morocco — can help target France left back Theo Hernández.

Deschamps reacted on Wednesday by taking off Giroud, sending Mbappé into the middle, and using substitute Marcus Thuram on the left to both attack and protect Hernández. It also helped ease the load on France’s hardworking workers. midfield led by Antoine Griezmann.

Thuram and Mbappé then combined to create the goal for Randal Kolo Muani in the 2-0 victory over Morocco.

SCORE FIRST

The trophy has been won only once in 11 finals. France was 2006 in this instance.

It sounds simple, and it worked for this generation in World Cup knockout matches.

France has been the first to score in all seven of its games, starting at round 16 and continuing through the two previous World Cups.

Croatia, however, failed to score in seven games during the same period and was eventually defeated by France in the 2018 final. Argentina in the semifinals on Tuesday.

In fact, only Argentina has led France in those seven games — for a brief period in their epic match in Kazan four years ago.

For nine minutes in the second half, France trailed 2-1 until right back Benjamin Pavard’s slicing shot — picked as goal of the tournament — equalized. France won that game 4-3 after Mbappé also scored twice.

France is in control under Deschamps. They quickly tighten their defense and take the lead. His team does not seem to panic at being under pressure, as in the second period against England and Morocco.

According to FIFA statistics, France had 36% possession after the victory over England 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Only 34% were in the semifinals.

This 34% figure was also the same in the semifinals of Argentina’s match. Argentina was happy to give the ball to Croatia but hit hard and fast when the space became available.

Since Qatar’s opening, Argentina has not been trailing in Qatar 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.

STAY HEALTHY

The definition of sickness is running through the France squad, Qatar was the same as Switzerland in earlier years.

The three center backs France rely on — Raphaël Varane, Ibrahima Konaté and Dayot Upamecano — all have been affected this week.

Upamecano seems closest to full recovery and Varane’s status is perhaps the biggest concern as the senior partner to his less experienced teammates.

Konaté was superb against Morocco dealing with the 22 crosses into the penalty area France had to defend.

Argentina, with forwards Lionel Messi and Julián Álvarez leading the attack, prefer to run hard at the opposition defense or cross the ball with low passes into danger areas. France’s defense needs to be able to move quickly and with clear heads.

Hugo Lloris, goalkeeper against Morocco, often sent the ball long to avoid pressing forwards and ask less of his defenders.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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