Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Breath of fresh air for Les Bleus - France can truly begin the healing

Le President can finally smile
France scored a famous victory today in Sarajevo defeating Bosnia 2-0 in a game that could have easily been 3 or a 4 goal victory. The win gives Blanc and France a huge oxygen boost. After two consecutive losses under Blanc, and 4 straight losses for France...the first time this has happened to Les Bleus in 73 years! SEVENTY THREE years!!!! If you go back further France have lost 5 of their last 6 games - against the football powers such as China, Mexico, South Africa, Norway and Belarus. France did draw against eventual World Cup 4th place team Uruguay 0-0!!!

So we can start rethinking that Les Bleus might be slowly turning the ship back to the proper direction. Such a victory could not come at a more crucial time for France. Heading into the hostile environment of Sarajevo and coming out with a dominate 2-0 victory can only be seen as an important victory and giant morale boost. As I stated in my previous post, I felt this match was going to be the most difficult on France's qualifying calendar and after dropping all 3 points against Belarus it only became that much more difficult. Bravo for Les Bleus to attacking this match with a level of concentration and urgency that it called for. So what to take from the game:

The Good:
  • The full 3 points - I cannot reiterate this enough. France headed into this match desperate to not lose the game, the draw and 1 point would have been seen as a moral victory. Due to the other results of the day Albania and Belarus are leading the group with 4 points - no team was able to grab 2 victories from the first 2 days. This places France right back in the chase to win the group. The next match for France will at home against old friend Romania - a vital match for Les Bleus to continue building on this success with Luxembourg as the second match, France head into these next 2 games with a great opportunity to take a commanding position in the group. Something I could not imagine 24 hours ago.
  • The 4-3-3 and the French pressing - After playing with a 4-4-2 against Belarus, Blanc demonstrated what the former French manager could never do...strategic flexibility. Blanc knew he could not afford to drop any points and due to his shortage in the offensive sector he decided to "beef" up his midfield and to defend first and foremost. With a defensive midfield of Diaby, ADiarra and M'Vila, Blanc clearly sought to snuff out any oxygen and space for the Bosnian midfield. France came out from the first minute looking to pursue every 50-50 ball, shut down passing lanes and pressure the Bosnian team into mistakes. With Malouda and Valbuena doing their defensive work back tracking and latching on to Bosnian lost balls, France showed a gear that we have been waiting to see for a few years. Blanc gave us a glimpse of what he brings to the table - tactical flexibility and an understanding that has been lacking for the past 6 years.
  • Rami and to some extent Mexes - the central defensive pairing was very strong in this match. In particular Rami demonstrated once again his quality. His personal battle with Dzeko was one sided, in favor of the French central defender, as one article noted he put Dzeko in his pocket. Not a simple victory when you realize that Dzeko is probably one of the best strikers in Europe that no one knows about - let us not forget that the Special One has been in hot pursuit of the German based striker. I have heard some French pundits criticizing both players for their showing against Belarus. However I would caution that these two have played 3 games together, and they will need more time to develop a working relationship which is crucial as a central defensive pairing. What I have seen so far is very promising in my eyes, but they still need time to continue to develop. Aside from Mexes' aggressive play sometimes giving away silly free kicks I am much more encouraged by this pairing than what Domenech had always rolled out on the pitch.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena brought a tremendous amount of energy and creativity to the right side of the pitch. Hmmmm too bad Domenech never allowed Valbuena to showcase during the World Cup. The OM play-maker was very active on the pitch. He made sure the French attack was well balanced but also allowed himself to come back to the center of the park and at times to the left allowing Malouda to drift back to the middle as well. He created himself a wonderful chance to score in the second half forcing a save from Hasagic in the 78th minute.
  • Benzema - the much maligned Real Madrid striker came to play today against Bosnia. Basically slotted up front as the lone striker, Valbuena and Malouda were more offensive midfielder/wingers. His goal was a glimpse of his talent - controlling a pass in the penalty box surrounded by 3 Bosnian defender, a nice drag back with a quick release from his left foot - not the most perfect shot but the pure goal scorer's strike. He
    could have had a brace off a cheeky chip from Matuidi that forced a point blank save from Hasagic. Overall the Real striker had 6 shots on goal - including a sizzler in the 11th minute where he beat two defenders forcing a strong save and a free kick that beat the wall but could not dip in time. His showing was exactly what we have been waiting for from the former Lyon prodigy. The only question is can he string a few of these together for France? If so the question of who will take over the offensive duties for Les Bleus has found its answer. I am cautiously optimistic. His talent has never been questioned, just his desire and will. Maybe Blanc and Mourinho can get this type of effort out of Benzema on a regular basis, now that would be something truly special.
  • Speaking of maligned players, Diaby also showed very well for himself. In the 4-3-3 he was given the freedom and space to show off his talents. He was sharp on his passing and dribbling. He even gave us a little school ground trickery on the second goal with a deft little back heel to Valbuena. Were his touch a bit on the softer side could have scored a goal on a text book give and go with Malouda putting the Arsenal #2 thru alone on the keeper, only to have his first touch let him down. After a maddeningly quiet match against Belarus it was good to see the Arsenal man shine in this match. Much like Benzema, I hope that he too can string more of these together for France!
  • France's ability to finish strong. I do not take this lightly, that Les Bleus kept a clean sheet and finished strong after going up by 2 goals. They kept their composure and the insertion of Matuidi (his first cap, good for him) in place of Malouda was a clear signal from Blanc that he meant to preserve the clean sheet and that even up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go, the game was not over. The Saint-Etienne midfielder showed well for himself with a cheeky chip to Benzema that could have made it 3-0 as well as a diagonal cross to Diarra that the Bordeaux man could not tap in...his play was an example of the team concentrated on properly closing out the game. In past matches...Serbia in Paris during WC qualifiers in particular, France went up 2-0 only to give away a silly goal when they clearly thought the game was over. Or even the match against Romania during the same campaign at Stade de France - after going up 1-0 they seemed to take their foot off the accelerator only to see the Romanians come back and get the equalizer off an Escude own goal. If history is any indicator, every point counts, ever goal for and against is crucial, therefore nothing should be given away cheaply during qualifiers.
The Bad:
  • French finishing in front of goal, okay I realize they did score 2 goals which away to Bosnia should be seen as a positive however Benzema should have had a brace, Diaby's heavy touch let him down, Valbuena tested but should have done better with his effort in the second half...Every goal is vital in qualifiers and there were at least 1-3 clear chances for another goal that France should have capitalized on. Against strong quality opponents, Benzema will not get 6 good looks at goal, so he must be more clinical on those he gets, same goes for the rest of the team.
  • Sagna's crosses - I realize this is a pet peeve of mine, but for all his ability I constantly get frustrated with Sagna's poor service on crosses. Clearly he is a world class defender and does get up well into the offense but that does no good when his crosses fall sheepishly into the keeper's Nike clad mitts or fly harmlessly into touch. He must improve this part of his game for both club and country.
The Ugly:
  • Dropping the full 3 points to Belarus! I realize that match was last Friday, but after this victory those lost points loom large for France. Had they just drawn that game...then again maybe losing that match was what they needed to give us this performance.
  • Fans throwing fire crackers onto the pitch. At least Mexes could laugh about it, but it could have caused some serious injury...stupid. For a second there I thought I was watching a PSG game!
A great win for France. Of course I cannot get too far ahead of myself. While Bosnia is a very solid squad, especially playing at home, France did not just go into San Paulo and defeat Brazil 2-0. But a victory and a full 3 points on the road is crucial for France. There remains a lot of work ahead for the squad and Blanc. But France can head into their next match at home against Romania with much needed confidence, they will also have the return of Gourcuff and most likely Nasri.

As I stated before the healing from the disaster that was Domenech would not start in earnest until France won on the field. Les Bleus final have the breath of oxygen so desperately needed. France can leave this international break with a positive view and hope for the matches in September. Something that seemed like a futile wish only 24 hours ago.

The match highlights:

See you in September against Romania! Allez les Bleus!!!


Philip said...

I agree this is probably the toughest match France will play on paper. But France really struggle when they play a team who does nothing but defend. And most of the teams in this group will do just that against France.

Hopefully they only move forward and the offense will finish better.

GFC said...

I agree, the likes of Romania, Albania, Luxembourg and Belarus will put up a much more defense oriented front. But this result should provide some confidence for Blanc and his team as they take on these nations. The way Benzema played is very encouraging, he was covered on many occasions by 2 defenders so will be receiving similar treatment in the upcoming matches.

Anonymous said...

I think Benzema is our new Papin.Whats ur thought about Papin??.Zidan era missed a player that was Papin.
After Italy Match(2008 Euro Qualify Match)mean 4 years....it is best Match of France.
I hope It will be continue....

From Bangladesh

Jose said...

Congratulations on a good win. It is nice to see France get back on track....

Anonymous said...

Really nice articles man! Great time reading these.

An Arsenal, PSG and France National Team fan from Hungary

Anonymous said...

Otherwise what do you think, when Lass, Nasri, Gourcuff, Gignac, Anelka, Ribery, Evra, Cisse all come back, who can keep his place from this squad played against Bosnia? Lloris - Sagna, Rami, Mexes, Evra - Lass, Diaby - Gourcuff, Nasri, Ribery - Benzema with Mandanda, Clichy, Abidal, M'Vila, A Diarra, Malouda, Valbuena, Gignac on the bench by Blanc would be nice in my opinion.

Cheers from Hungary


GFC said...

Papin was one of France's great players that was played on a team in between generations - he started with Platini in 1986 but was gone before the Zizou generation came in. It was unfortunate because France had the horses at the time - Cantona, Boli, Ginola to name a few. I think France did not know what formation to play to maximize Cantona's brilliance and Papin's goal scoring. Alas.

GFC said...

@Mark, thanks for reading the blog! Appreciate it. I think it will be a very interesting situation when the available players increase for Blanc. Much depends on what formation Blanc decides to lean on - 4-3-3 or back to 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond? I think the defense will most likely not change:

Lloris in goal
Sagna, Rami, Mexes, Clichy - I do think that once Evra has done his time he will be, assuming back in form, slotted back at starting left back. Clichy has shown very well for himself from a defensive standpoint but much like his Arsenal mate - Sagna - still has not convinced me with regards to his offense.

I think that the holding midfield role will be taken on by M'Vila...for many years to come and ADiarra - I think his height is a huge plus for France something Lass does not bring to the table.

Diaby had one poor game and one good game, that keeps him in the not clear cut starter camp. Gourcuff is most likely back in the starting line up giving France a true #10 play-maker.

Up front - I think that Benzema has deserved his shot at holding down the striker role in the near term, Malouda should be patrolling the left. Question is does Valbuena hold his spot or does Nasri come in to assume it? I think Ribery might be an option if Blanc tells him to play on the right. Some interesting choices for Blanc to make.

We shall see.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, interesting thoughts. I would be really surprised if both Evra and Ribery would sit on the bench, and Valbuena would make the starting line-up. Otherwise thanks for your answer. We'll see. Now go Arsenal, Nasri is back!

GFC said...

Well Ribery is out for the next two games, so blessing in disguise for Blanc? Evra is still on suspension so Blanc will not have to deal with that headache for a few more games.

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