You're right - "barely scraped through" was hyperbolic on my part, but I do think if you look at performances in the early stages for a lot of recent winners, it's still fair to say that they weren't initially playing well.
France 2018 - absolutely awful in the group stages. No real attacking cohesion at all, and only scored 3 goals. Giroud introduced to the starting XI as a result.
Germany 2014 - easy win against Portugal after Pepe's silly first half red card, but then struggled against Ghana and USA, and needed extra time to eke past Algeria in the knockouts.
Spain 2010 - lost to Switzerland in their opener and really struggled to create chances. Del Bosque refused to drop Alonso and play 4-3-3 (probably for political reasons), so instead dropped Torres for Pedro and moved David Villa to centre forward. Struggled to score goals all tournament, but had a water-tight defence.
Italy 2006 - laboured through the group stages, drawing to USA and making hard work of beating Ghana, and were extremely fortunate not to lose to Australia in the first knockout game.
France 1998 - Got 9 points in an easy group, but changed system as they weren't quite clicking. Henry was used as the main attacker earlier on. When Zidane came back from suspension after his stupid red card against Saudi Arabia, the system changed to him and Djorkaeff playing off Guivarch. Needed a Golden Goal to beat Paraguay in the knockouts.