Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Incroyable! Les Bleus pull off a "hold up" and leave Madrid with a point

Wow. I did not expect to see this out of Les Bleus. After Ramos scored and the way Spain were playing, I was ready to turn off the game. But what a swing in the second half. And at the ultimate last minute, France somehow leave Madrid with a 1-1 draw and a point. Unbelievable! The standings after this match:

The Good:
  • The draw. During qualifiers you need to look to draw away from home and win your home games, especially when faced with the defending World Cup champions and two time defending European Cup champions. Add to this the way Spain made you look in the 1/4 finals of the Euros and the fact France leave Spain with a point is huge. France and Spain are atop the group with goals being the difference. If, and that is a big IF for France, both sides hold serve, the group cold be decided when Spain come to Paris in March.
  • Hugo Lloris, the Tottenham #2 keeper was nothing short of phenomenal for France. He was unlucky that his defense abandoned him on the Ramos goal but otherwise was nothing short of spectacular. He kept his nerve on the Cesc penalty kick, saved well on numerous point blank chances and anticipated some Spanish through balls - especially late in the match saving at the feet of Cesc again. Without Lloris France would have been sunk.
  • France's persistence. I will admit I was surprised that the likes of Benzema and Ribery kept running at the Spanish. For once they showed 90 minutes of fire in their bellies and were rewarded for it. In the second half both Ribery and Benzema single handedly carried the attack to the Spanish. Benzema was unfortunate to not be credited with an assist on Menez's goal...which was NOT offside. But in the second half both attackers put the Spanish back line under tremendous pressure.
  • Oh what a goal can do for one's spirit!
  • Deschamps, unlike Blanc during the Euros, kept some modicum of offense in his line up. What was very interesting was how the game tipped in the second half. The French retained the ball more and attacked quickly down the flanks with late runs through the middle. This forced the Spanish fullbacks to sit at home more, play more defensively. In doing so the Spanish attack seemed to lose some steam. What was apparent was that the Spanish were doing a lot of damage early on by holding up the ball in the middle, allowing their fullbacks to make runs from deep and forcing the French to sag deeper and deeper on the pitch. Once those fullbacks were forced to sit in their half, the French began to have greater control of the ball.
  • This pains me to say...but Ramos was a rock for Spain. Not only did he score the goal but he held the Spanish defense together which at times looked completely out of sorts. He made some tough tackles and single-handily corralled Benzema on a few occasions.
  • Giroud...came in late for an injured Benzema, but did what a #9 is suppose to do. Almost latched on to a cross late in the game and did latch on to the last minute cross from the Kaiser to equalize. As someone on Twitter said - Arsenal needs to find someone to cross the ball to him!
Ramos - man of the match for Spain
The Bad:
  • French finishing...I realize that France scored two goals, yes one was not allowed, but it should have been. And France were playing Spain not Georgia, but they had other chances that had to be put away. Other opportunities that needed to be taken - in particular a streaking Sissoko that latched on to a Benzema cross inside the penalty spot and didn't even come close to the goal! Les Bleus still have trouble taking advantage of their chances. This must improve.
  • Deschamps substitutions. Taking Menez off the pitch and introducing Sissoko was a real head scratcher for me. The introduction of Valbuena in place of Gonalons made perfect sense - you were chasing a goal. But in the 68th minute, still chasing that goal, to take out your right winger and insert Sissoko, a holding midfielder was questionable. If you are going to make that move why not bring Capoue, also a holding midfielder, but one with more offensive punch than his TFC teammate. That substitution smacked of a Domenech move...it also called into question some of the players Deschamps selected. Leaving the likes of Nasri, Ben Arfa and Remy at home deprived him of offensive options late in the game. He had plenty of defensive options on his bench. But very few offensive "jokers."
  • Set piece defending...when oh when will Les Bleus learn to defend set pieces! Ramos should have scored off his header, which was completely uncontested, and then was  left unmarked to roof in the cross! This has dogged France for too long now.
The Ugly:
  • The Koscielny challenge was AWFUL. He was fortunate to not have received a straight red...the official probably wanted to spare him the added humiliation! I was convinced his partner Sakho would have committed such a foul, but the Arsenal man completely butchered that situation.
  • Spain's defense in the second half was ugly and leaky. Where it not for Cassillas and Ramos, the Spanish could have easily lost this game in the second half. The chink in the armor seems to be, the ability to pressure the Spanish fullbacks, force them to sit at home on defense. This creates avenues from which to attack wide, there were a number of occasions where Ribery or Evra would push down the flank which would open up lanes for secondary runs to push through. Alonso virtually disappeared the second half - he seemed to be stuck deeper on the field trying to cover for the space that was being opened up. Clearly the Spanish missed their center back tandem of Puyol and Pique.
  • Busquets...and his flopping. If there is one player I cannot stand it is Busquets. Whether playing for Barcelona or Spain...he is the biggest flopper and diver next to Suarez. Every time he goes down it is as if he were shot by a sniper. Nothing compares to his play acting a few seasons ago in the Champions League against Inter, but he drives me nuts. Sad thing is he is a good player and doesn't need such theatrics.
 An unlikely point for France. But one that was well deserved. France really took the game to the Spanish in the second half and had they left Madrid with a 1-0 loss it would have been undeserved. Unlike what happened in the Euros, Deschamps did not stray from his game plan. His team absorbed the Spanish attack for the first 20 - 30 minutes. They really did not allow the Spanish to truly threaten the goal from open play (conceding on a corner). In the second half they started putting more pressure on the Spanish, particularly going after the full backs and forcing the Spanish backs deeper and therefore opening up space in the middle. France were the more dangerous team in the second half. Ribery and Sissoko both having clear scoring chances, until Giroud put his away.

This will be very interesting to see how the return leg goes in Paris. Both sides should have some of their key players back. Can Deschamps replicate this strategy back home?

Allez Les Bleus.


GFC said...

I have to add that Matuidi played a huge match for Les Bleus. He was the engine in the midfield that allow France to push higher in the second half. He gave a Pat Vieira like performance with his work rate and box to box efforts.

philip said...

I also did not understand why he took out menez for sissoko. But sissock played a good match and was part of the late goal.

I wonder if m'villa will come back I think he is the future. Also still like to see Gignac back haha

rkhavkine said...

I almost didn't tune in. Watching Les Bleus implode the last few years, on and off the field, has been disappointing and frustrating after the sweet, decade-long run.
And the frustration's been epitomized by Nasri, and, to a lesser extent, Ben Arfa, both of whom have so much potential to influence the squad for the better. But it's so far been very clear that each has got a personal agenda that trumps any such commitment.
So I'm OK that they were not selected this time around. I'm encouraged that Deschamps appears to not stand for ill-discipline, which, it's clear, has too often fractured team chemistry in the last few.
The watercarrier could be building, if not world-beaters, then a very respectable squad. Now I will hope for a Gourcuff return once he recuperates from injury.

GFC said...

I do think leaving these offensive midfield players hamstrung Deschamps late in the game. I forgot about Gourcuff - could he have helped late in the game to bring more offense to the midfield?

The substitution of Sissoko for Menez was a result of this lack of options. Sissoko did play well, but I wonder how things would have ended up on the Benzema cross that he put into row Z. What would have Ben Arfa, Nasri, Gourcuff, Remy or the likes done with that pass?