Friday, February 11, 2011

France v Brazil - a win is a win.

I was finally able to watch the France v Brazil match in its entirety - wifi came back - and will have to say it was an entertaining match. One can never discount the physiological benefits of defeating a side such as Brazil, even if they were a man down for 50 minutes. France are now on 5 straight victories with 9 goals for and only 1 against, including wins against England at Wembley, Bosnia at Sarajevo and now Brazil. Highlights of the game and thoughts from the Frog:

The Good:
  • As I stated above, a win over Brazil is always good. Truth be told, I think Les Bleus deserved the victory, man advantage or not. Les Bleus played a smart match - weathered the Brazilian storm in the first half allowing the Samba boys to control the tempo but really not giving up any chances. Alves did force Lloris into a "fumbly" save on a hard straight on shot early on in the game, but otherwise the only other real chance for Brazil was a Robinho shot that should have forced at least a save from Lloris but instead sailed high into the Parisian sky. The second half Les Bleus took what was given to them, a man advantage and the left side of the Brazilian formation vulnerable. Good for France to recognizing and taking advantage of this as the goal of the victory came from an attack off that side. 
  • Karim Benzema was very good. The second half seemed to be owned by the Real Madrid striker. After scoring the French goal on what was truly a simple tap in after Menez squared a beautiful ball, once again attacking down the left side of the Brazilian formation, Benzema within a span of 5 minutes forced some big saves twice from the Cesar - 56th and 61st minutes. Even his miss-hit cross off his left foot beat Cesar and almost found itself in the back of the goal. What was impressive to me, as well as other pundits, was the willingness of Benzema to take chances, run at defenders and not be afraid of failure. I realize that at the international level this is what you expect from players, however based on what is currently happening at Real Madrid, you might expect Benzema to take on the same attitude. You wonder what would happen if Mourinho, like Blanc, would stick with the young striker and let him get some run in rather than yo-yo between the bench and the starting line up. Quietly Benezema has been on a bit of a scoring run - 4 goals for Les Bleus in the last 4 matches. Granted he could have had a brace or more against Brazil, but the fact he forced 2 strong saves from Cesar to go with his goal and those are encouraging signs. Benzema now has 12 goals in 33 games for Les Bleus...not too bad: 0.36 goals per game (Henry was at 0.42, Zidane 0.28, Trezeguet 0.47 and Platini 0.57 - granted Fontaine had an absurd 1.42 goals per game...).
  • The other Frenchman that had a superb match was Mexes. The AS Roma defender was an absolute rock at the back. He made some aggressive tackles, was often there to clean up the mess and demonstrate a willingness to pinch up into the attack taking space when made available. His partnership with Rami, while not even 10 games old, has clearly stabilized the French back 4. He completely shut down his fellow Serie A player, Pato, making strong tackles and marking the Milan striker out of the game. Clearly his strong and physical play did effect some of the Brazilian attacks, truly being the enforcer on the back line. Much like Benzema, it is evident that this player's game greatly benefits with playing for a manager that respects him and will give him the opportunity to play and develop. Something Domenech could not figure out, never really understanding how to leverage Mexes. Alas what could have been....but better late than never.
  • I have to mention a Brazilian - Julio Cesar. I have been one of his biggest critics never really prepared to name him the world's best keeper but against France he demonstrated why he is in the conversation. He made some strong saves on Benzema in the second half as well as some strong play through out the game. On an early French cross that had eyes for both Mexes and Benzema was deftly parried away from an outstretched Cesar. Without the Inter keeper Brazil might have suffered a larger defeat at Stade de France.
  • Finally once again it is evident that having Laurent Blanc managing Les Bleus is good. I cannot reiterate what a difference 6 months makes. After 6 painful years of dealing with Dumbenech it is so brutally evident what a waste that time was when observing how Blanc goes about managing this side. Blanc is building back the side that Domenech so clumsily mismanaged. Blanc has given players like Mexes and Benzema the confidence necessary to begin to play up to the level we always expected they could all the while infusing some fresh blood - M'Vila, Remy, Cabaye and Menez to name a few. Granted, all this good will means nothing if France do not qualify for the Euros or crash out in the first round like they did the last two tournaments. Yet Le President is quickly making us forget Domenech as well as giving all France fans reason to hope for bright days ahead.
The Bad:
  • Jeremy Menez, okay he was not was his great move and cross that  handed Benzema the French goal on a platter, so why do I put him in this category? Because he was invisible in the first half! What was frustrating to me was watching him for a 15 minute span in the second half where he was aggressive and attacked the Brazilian defense. I realize the second half saw a Brazilian squad down to 10 men and more space, but that does not mean you have to be passive when facing 11 men...I am sure that when Roma plays they tend to face the full 11 men squads and Menez is aggressive then! The right side of the French attack remains a question mark - Valbuena seems to be the choice, but he is not a lock. Could Nasri be there, sure, but I think he will be used more in the center of the park. Therefore there is a good opportunity for a player such as Menez to make some headway. He did show me something during that second half, I just wished he had not waited 45 minutes before turning it on.
  • Sagna...not the player but his crosses. Overall the Arsenal man played well and was strong in his channel defending and supporting the attack. But his crossing remains a huge issue. He has the ability to get up into the attack, had some good moments with Menez, but once again could not provide consistent crosses. Frustrating.
  • Gourcuff and Malouda. Neither have been able to recapture some of their top level form from a few seasons ago. The Lyon play maker did have a superb flick on to Benzema in the first half (9th minute), taking a pass from Malouda, Gourcuff deftly flicked the ball between two Brazilian defenders onto the path of Benzema. The latter should have done better and forced some work out of Cesar. Unfortunately after that action Gourcuff went back into his frustrating form of late - appear to be pushing and forcing the game. The same with the Chelsea winger. Malouda worked hard and trying to be involved in the game but his touch let him down with sloppy passes and poor turn overs. These two players have too much talent in their boots to play this poorly.
The Ugly:

  • The red card! It was not ugly because it was not deserved but more for the act. Hernanes deserved the sending off with a very clumsy and reckless challenge - studs high right into Benzema's chest! What was really ugly for me was the fact it was equally egregious as the move by De Jong in the World Cup finals which did not get the Dutch goon a red card. In the end it did not cost the Spanish but what if Holland had won when they really should have gone down to 10 players!

  • The condition of the pitch was terrible! I realize Stade de France hosted a 6 nations match earlier this week, but that was not a pitch for an international match. I know this would never happen but when the federation knows that they will be following up a rugby match maybe they should go back and play at Parc des Princes. I realize the smaller capacity would reduce the gate, but at least the pitch would be of better quality.
  • What was up with that kit for Lloris??? The retro France look provided by Nike is growing on me, but the strip for the keeper looks like a fancy prisoner outfit with the stripes....or a misplaced sailor outfit.
  • Back to back defeats for the Selecao. Brazil has lost back to back against hated rivals Argentina and now France a team that they have not defeated in the past 7 games! The Brazilian manager, Menezes, is coming under heavy pressure with a few months to go before Copa America. I would say this for the Brazilian manager, much like his French counterpart he realizes that he must rebuild and get some of his younger players into the side now if they are too be ready for the World Cup in 2014. Brazil should do well at the Copa America, and unlike the Euros there is no qualifying and sides like Brazil and Argentina really should make the semifinals (since 1989 Brazil has made it at least as far as the semis). Granted it is a trophy and not one to ignore. But with the next World Cup being held on Brazilian soil and the fact Brazil have crashed out of the last two editions in the 1/4 finals, Menezes realizes that the World Cup 2014 is what really matters. I hope that the Brazilian federation allows him to see through his ideas and plan, regardless of what happens in friendlies and at the Copa. Otherwise Brazil might be scrambling to put together the right team to seek World Cup glory on home soil.
Back in French side soon?
A good win for France. Of course I am not ready to thrust France back into the elite. There remains work to be done. Blanc needs to figure out his midfield and who will be given the keys to the car. Gourcuff is forcing his game right now and seems out of sorts. Malouda has been shaky. Menez too timid. Could a healthy Ribery come back into the picture? Nasri is clearly an option, but one has to hope he can stay healthy. Valbuena will have something to say from the right side, but what combination clicks will be something Blanc must find. Benzema seems to be growing in confidence up front but he must make the most of the chances he creates and is afforded. One goal is nice, but not as nice as a brace or a hat trick! Defensively I think Les Bleus are solid - the back 4 for the past two games seems to be a pillar to build on - Diarra, M'Vila and Diaby are all strong options as the holding tandem. Finally in goal, Lloris is ready to be the France keeper for years to come.

As I stated above, a win is a win, coming against Brazil one cannot complain. There remains much work to be done and France must continue to work and build on these successes. However, Blanc and his team must not forget that a few games ago they lost on this same pitch to Belarus. After 6 years of Domenech and of disappointment, the national team's psyche and mine, remains fragile - one slip up in qualifiers and much of the work accomplished could be damaged. I do trust that Blanc realizes this and will not allow complacency. Les Bleus are heading in the right direction, something that could not be said last summer!

Allez les Bleus!


Anonymous said...

Good analysis. One thing France needs is a back-up option for Benzema. I got a bit nervous when he went down briefly in the first half. Gignac has been playing well lately for OM. Perhaps he will be called back into the fold?

GFC said...

Great point, I was actually going to mention that in my original post. Unlike a few years ago when France had the likes of Henry, Trezeguet, Anelka, Cisse, Saha to name a few that they could lean on at striker, the current generation is surprisingly thin.

I think for the most part players like NGog have not developed to the level Les Bleus have hoped for. I am not sure Gameiro, Hourau et al. are players I would want to lean on for goals where Benzema to miss time.

Gignac has been playing well for OM, but not convinced he can play the solo striker role that it appears Blanc wants to leverage. Deschamps has found success having Gignac out on the left, not sure he would fit there for Blanc. I am also not sure the young generation such as Camara and Riviere are ready to step up and fill the void.

Anonymous said...

Good article. i m very happy because france win this match. I think France get confident from this match. Because a team who beat Brazil, They can beat any team in the world.
After Zidan era in domenich period (Actually Dam Period)France easily lost their match From Argentina,Spain(2 time)or any team.
I hope it will not happened again....


GFC said...

There is no doubt these games help France's attitude moving forward. Will give Blanc the necessary momentum to continue to build.

Something that was desperately needed after last summer.

JLP said...

I was truly glad happy to see this match. There was a time, I would have just been glad but we've come from so deep that this is just good news. I'm looking forward to be ecstatic again.

In the past couple weeks, it seems there's been a lot of hubbub about Benzema, both in France and in Spain. He's starting to come of his own. Example being the goal against his old team, Lyon, literally less than a minute before he came on.

I hope he keeps it up and takes on good advice from Mourinho, Zidane, Blanc etc... I've got great hopes for this guy!

Hoarau is like a defensive/offensive gem. His height and his willingness to fight make him a great support for a forward. It just needs to click with whomever he plays with (did you see his last goal against Nice?!).

Gameiro does well in Lorient. They play a fast paced game. He will not do so well in a team that plays a slower.

Gignac has never impressed me.

PSG today! Will they go through? Good weather in Paris today

GFC said...


Good points on all the strikers. I do think that Les Bleus will go as far as Benzema can carry them offensively. But I am concerned about having a reliable #2 striker. We were spoiled with Henry/Trezeguet. I am just not convinced they likes of Hourau et al. are legitimate international strikers. They might develop, but I am not convinced...yet.

GFC said...

PSG did go through...through "la petit porte"

Tough draw for next round, always tough taking on one of Portugal's big clubs.