William Saliba is proving his worth for France on the biggest stage

  • William Saliba impressed during France's round of 16 win over Belgium at Euro 2024
  • Saliba saw plenty of Romelu Lukaku and dominated duel
  • Arsenal star has started every game in Germany
William Saliba shut down Romelu Lukaku in France's round of 16 win
William Saliba shut down Romelu Lukaku in France's round of 16 win / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Arsenal supporters have always known what France had in William Saliba. It's taken Didier Deschamps a little bit of time.

"He is having a good season, but he also does things that I don’t like so much," the cautious French manager said back in March. Deschamps, however, never discarded the Arsenal star.

Saliba was included in France's 2022 World Cup, starting an inconsequential group game, and after a fine second season for the Gunners, his addition to the 26-man Euro 2024 squad was an inevitability. Les Bleus certainly aren't bereft of premier centre-halves, making Saliba's quest for starts just that little bit harder, but the retirement of Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate's dip in form down the stretch in 2023/24 bolstered Saliba's chances.

Before France's opener against Austria, it was decided that the 23-year-old would start alongside Dayot Upamecano. Three clean sheets have ensued, and the two-time European champions are now preparing for a Euro 2024 quarter-final.

Saliba's certainly impressed, vindicating Deschamps' delayed faith, and he saved his best work of the tournament so far for the start of France's knockout stage campaign - when Deschamps' outfit usually kick into gear.

William Saliba shuts down Romelu Lukaku in France's round of 16 win over Belgium at Euro 2024

William Saliba, Romelu Lukaku
Saliba saw plenty of the brutish Belgian striker / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

Romelu Lukaku may no longer be the toned beast that terrorised Italian defences while Antonio Conte was at the helm at Inter. That was a truly demonic iteration of the Belgian striker. Since parting ways with Conte, Lukaku has reverted to a slightly more beefier and static forward, but his power certainly remains intact. He's still a handful, and there are few strikers superior at pinning and rolling a centre-back.

Saliba never bit.

This could've been a daunting match-up for the young Arsenal defender, but Saliba has relished the big occasions during his Arsenal career to date. The 23-year-old produced three of his best performances last season at Anfield, Old Trafford, and the Etihad. He doesn't care where he is or who he's up against. He just performs.

France's round of 16 tie with Belgium was fairly drab, with the latter aiming to beat the French at their own game. A moment was always going to decide it as the dynamic of the contest became clear in the early stages, and Saliba had a hand in delivering France's crucial blow.

Lukaku had started to drift over to Upamecano midway through the second half in a bid to get into the game having got no change out of Saliba. However, the pair found themselves tussling again on the edge of the French box with six minutes remaining. Saliba, once again, was touch-tight, matching Lukaku physically, resisted a rolling, and pinched the ball away from behind. Deschamps' side sprung forward, and a deflected Randal Kolo Muani strike sent the French through.

Saliba's subjugation of Lukaku was mightily impressive, but performances like the one the 23-year-old produced in Dusseldorf are hardly novel.

The Arsenal man produced a masterclass in duel-winning, and touch-tight defending, yet his display wasn't spotless. There may have been things Deschamps didn't "like so much". Narratives surrounding his performance would've been different hadn't he been bailed out by a superb Theo Hernandez recovery challenge after Lois Openda pick-pocketed Saliba in possession midway through the second half.

But still, that mishap will hardly live long in the memory. Instead, Saliba's Euro 2024 campaign seems to be the mere beginning of a prosperous international career. He may already be the world's best.