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Deschamps defends decision to make nine changes in Tunisia defeat

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France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappe (left) speaks with coach Didier Deschamps as he enters the pitch during their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group D football match against Tunisia at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha, on November 30. AFP

Deschamps defends decision to make nine changes in Tunisia defeat

France coach Didier Deschamps defended his decision to change almost his entire line-up for Wednesday's final World Cup group game against Tunisia as he admitted his mind was on keeping players fresh for the knockout phase.

The holders were the first team in Qatar to secure a place in the last 16 after they won their first two games in Group D against Australia and Denmark.

That meant they could even afford to lose against Tunisia at Doha's Education City Stadium and almost certainly win the group – as happened with Les Bleus going down 1-0 but topping the section on goal difference from Australia.

Deschamps made nine changes to his side following the Denmark game, with Kylian Mbappe among the players to be rested as only captain Raphael Varane and Aurelien Tchouameni kept their places.

As a result France were disjointed and lost to Wahbi Khazri's second-half strike, even if only a VAR check denied Antoine Griezmann an equaliser in injury time.

"They will learn from this," Deschamps said of his fringe players, including debutant Axel Disasi at right-back.

"Tunisia were right up for it while we were timid, late into the challenges and made too many errors, even if we did do better at the end when some more experienced players came on.

"This result means we haven't met all our objectives but the most important one was to be in the last 16."

Among those rested was Barcelona defender Jules Kounde, who was on a yellow card and so risked a suspension if booked again.

Deschamps also revealed that Marcus Thuram was set to play before a last-minute problem forced him to further change his plans just hours before the game.

Asked whether he had made a mistake in leaving out so many key players, Deschamps replied: "We might have got a better result but we still would have had to play again in four days.

"My players are not tired. They just put a lot of energy into the first two matches. We have a last-16 tie coming up and we also need to take into account that games are now lasting 105 minutes," he added, with a reference to the large amounts of stoppage time added at the tournament.

"I was not neglecting this game but the focus was on Sunday."

France will play a last-16 tie against the Group C runners-up on Sunday at Doha's Al Thumama Stadium.

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