And since this is a pivotal match, both sides have cranked up the rhetoric...Domenech has stated that Scotland is favorites in the group, Fletcher has stated that Domenech is clearly trying to insight the team, and the Scots in general have stated that the French do not respect them. Not sure how the French cannot respect them and at the same time state they are favorites....but anyways such is the war of words for bulletin board material.
So what can we expect in tomorrows show down? I believe that Scotland, rightfully so, believe they have a legitimate chance of stealing 1 if not all 3 points in Paris. They will most likely leverage the same tactics - play defensive, have 9 field players behind the ball at all times, allow the French to pass the ball in the French half and midfield only to stub their toes on the Scotish defense packed around the 18 yard box. Scotland will then look to strike on counters as well as set pieces. This worked very well last year in the game in Scotland. France was constantly frustrated by the Scotish defense and both Henry and Trezeguet were frustrated in not being able to find any space nor service from the midfielders.
What could be different this time around? I believe three keys are different this game versus the one in Scotland.
- First, Anelka is present this time. I could argue that Anelka has taken over the #1 striker role for Les Bleus. I realize that Henry is one goal away from matching Platini for the all time leading goal scorer for France and that Trezeguet is on 4 goals from 2 matches in the Italian Serie A. But Anelka has brought something different to the French attack, the ability to take on defenders one on one as well as attack high balls. Both these skills will be crucial if France is to break down the Scotish defense.
- Second, the emergence of play maker Nasri, assuming Domenech plays the young Marseille midfielder in the middle of the pitch. The one element the French missed during their game at Scotland it was clear they did not have the play maker needed to find the right lock combination to the Scotish defense. If Domenech plays a midfield of Ribery - Nasri - Malouda with Anelka up front, this might be the right combination to break down the Scots. With Ribery and Malouda's speed on the wings and Nasri in the middle, the 5 player Scotish midfield should be tested.
- Finally, Escude, Gallas or Mexes will find themselves along side Thuram, not the plodding Boumsong. In the match in Scotland, Boumsong did a decent job, for him, covering the Scotish strikers. But brought absolutely nothing on the offensive side, something any of the above mentioned players will bring to the table.
I think France will find a way to get the full 3 points, but it will be very tight. Scotland will play defensive and frustrate Les Bleus. However they cannot hold on for 90 minutes and the French speed and offensive talent will find the back of the Scotish net for a small 1-0 victory.