Thursday, October 17, 2013

Les Bleus end on a high note, the real work begins

So Les Bleus end the World Cup qualifiers with a resonating 3-0 victory over Finland. The game could easily gone 4 or 5 nil, then again it could also have been a much closer match. The Finns had a good 10 to 15 minute run where they gave France some serious scares. So let's look at this match and beyond:

The Good:
  • Goals goals and more goals. Uh where has this side been? 13 goals in their last three games? Granted not against footballing powerhouses, but 13 goals is still a nice bakers dozen of tallies. What was encouraging is that most of those 13 goals have not been of the cheap kind, but have either been from taking chances from distance (Nasri goal against Georgia and Ribery's blast against Finland) or from great ball movement and creative play (Giroud's second goal against Australia or Cabaye's goal in the same match). It is also encouraging to see the forwards scoring as well as the attacking midfielders, even the fullbacks have chipped in. Let us hope this scoring becomes a habit.
  • Speaking of the strikers, both Giroud and Benzema have found the back of the net the past two games. Both strikers have two goals each in the last two games. Now both remain far from challenging Henry as France's all time leading goal scorer. But it is encouraging to see both getting back into the scoring column. It will be interesting to see if Deschamps continues with Giroud as his starter in the playoffs or goes back to Benzema.
  • Ribery...what else can you say about the reigning European player of the year. He is in top form. It is good to see that the Kaiser is carrying over his Bayern form to the French national side. If Les Bleus hope to get to Brazil, and gasp, do something more than try to win a game much will depend on the left winger. Ribery has been electric in the past three games. He saved France against Georgia when he netted a brace and carried over this form by tormenting Australia and then scoring a lightening goal against Finland. If Kaiser Frank's form holds then Les Bleus hold a fighting chance in the World Cup playoff.

The Bad:
  • There remains lapses in the French defending. For a brief 15 minutes the French appeared leaky allowing Finland space and to get some potentially deadly passes to slice up the back four. It did not help that often it was a result of the fullbacks pushing up high and not having cover. But against a more clinical team, like Portugal, France will not have these lapses go unpunished.
  • Matuidi did not look like the player we expected.  The PSG midfielder was not the dynamic midfield presence we have become used to. Not sure if he was not 100%. Granted of all the spots on the pitch I am not as concerned with the role - Cabaye should offer a natural replacement if need be.
  • Not 100% bad, but something of concern - the balance of the attack. At times it was not pretty watching Valbuena and Nasri trying to coexist. Nasri was suppose to hold the right channel but to often found himself drifting into Valbuena's space. I might argue that Nasri should be slotted in the middle and put Valbuena out on the right. He seems to have more of the profile to hold his spot out wide. It has been argued that Debuchy found himself without support on the right without the winger holding their spot. Some truth to that. But overall the French attack still leans too much to the left. Deschamps will need to figure out if he needs to go back to a Payet or Remy on the right.
The Ugly:
  • Nothing too ugly in this match...except....where was this team earlier in qualifiers? I am not sure if they would have found a way to get above Spain in the group, but the way France has played the past 3 games is what we all expect from the collection of talent. They dropped a game to Japan in a friendly, lost to Germany and Brazil and Uruguay. Played admirably against Spain home and away, but could have been better served against Spain at home. Hopefully Deschamps has this team building up to the World Cup, but France has to get there first.
So France will head to the World Cup qualifying playoff, and have the potential of finding themselves facing Portugal...

The reality is that none of the teams, in either group would be easy for France. Granted, facing Iceland might have been okay. But as what happened 4 years ago against Ireland proves, once you go to this format all the teams have a chance. I might regret in saying this, but part of me feels that France would do well playing Portugal, the other three sides play a defensive/counter attacking style that could frustrate Les Bleus and I could see France losing a one goal home and away set up.

It is encouraging to see France head into the playoff on a high note. But all of this will not mean much if France get knocked out.

Allez les bleus

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