Monday, June 30, 2014

Survive and move on...France took this to heart and move on to the 1/4 finals

Ouf ouf ouf...Les Bleus get through to the 1/4 finals. And if anyone thought it would be easy this game should quickly squash those illusions. France were on the back foot for much of the game and the African team could have hoped for a goal for themselves before the 60th minute. For most of the match it felt as if the Super Eagles were more likely to sneak a goal in than the French. But a game is 90 minutes, alas for the Super Eagles. So let's look at the game -

The Good:
  • France get through. Les Bleus get where they needed to get to make this World Cup a success. Of course I expect them to go further...but being one of the 8 nations left is nothing to sneeze at. Especially in the context of what happened 4 years ago. Add to all this the group they had to deal with at the World Cup and anything short of this stage would have been a failure no matter how things were spun.
  • As mediocre as Pogba was in prior games, it felt like he upped his game today. The beginning of the match his passes were not crisp and lacked a certain weight to them. but as the game progressed his game rose in volume. He was not afraid to take on players in the middle of the pitch and great some space for the attack. The first half volley was a fantastic piece of skill. And of course he got the goal that liberated France in this game. A simplest of headers once Enyeama made an ill advised foray out of his line to try and play the cross. It is a good sign for the French if their Juventus midfielder plays up to his potential.
  • Speaking of Enyeama, he had a monster of a game. Granted it was his ill played attempt to play the French cross that led to Pogba's goal. But without his saves the game would have gotten out of hand early on. He made a massive save off a Pogba
    Huge save in the beginning of the game
    volley in the first half, got enough of a Benzema 1v1 and then another save on a strong header from Benzema. Any of these saves are not made and the game is lost much earlier. But the one mistake he made cost his team. But without him the game is done, maybe even in the first half.
  • Koscielny and Varane looked a very comfortable pairing in the center of the French defense. Kos proved me wrong today, he was a rock back there and his partnership with Varane worked very well. This bodes well moving forward and will give Deschamps some real choices to contemplate if Sakho is back at full health.
The Bad:
  • Giroud and Benzema need more time to develop...and this is not the time to work out the kinks. Yes the combo worked well against Jamaica...but that is Jamaica. It worked well again against Switzeland, once they scored and the Swiss started pushing high up the pitch allowing them to operate with relative ease up front. But as Nigeria demonstrated, if the opposing defense packs the space there is not enough creativity to get the ball to either striker. It also pushes Benzema wide, which is not a bad place for him, but it creates a defensive hole on the left side. Which has the knock on effect of neutering some of the offensive runs from the French right back - Evra. The French looked very dull until Deschamps took off Giroud for Griezmann. As much as I was intrigued and in favor of this line up, I think if France are to have any hopes of moving any further they need to insert a natural left winger - Griezmann - to start the game. This allows for Benzema top play down the middle, where he is more comfortable, and provides more defensive cover on that side with a natural left winger in place. 
  • France's lack of a true player that can break down a team. This game was an example of how the loss of a Ribery hurts the French. When they had the Kaiser patrolling they left flank, France knew they had a player that could single handily break down a team. This was clearly lacking in this match up. Too static, too predictable. When the fullbacks don't push up it also takes away an element of the attack. To go deep in a World Cup, you need a world class player. France have many excellent players, but without Ribery, they miss their world class player.
The Ugly:
  • Deschamps' substitution pattern raises some questions. I have no problem with bringing in Griezmann for Giroud, clearly that was move that worked. However, why did he not take out Matuidi? Even for the last 5 minutes, he was on a yellow. I know France were up 2-0. He took out Valbuena to protect him and also be more defensive with Sissoko. So why not with Matuidi. All it would have taken is a silly challenge and Matuidi is out...for the 1/4 finals as well!
Bottom line, Les Bleus are through. They have all their players available for the upcoming 1/4 final game. It will be interesting to see if Deschamps goes back to Griezmann on the left wing with Benzema in the center. And what about center back? If Sakho is healthy does he come back into the starting line up? The next few days will tell.

Allez les Bleus.

Giroud and Pogba back in line up - hunting for goals

It appears that Deschamps will roll out Pogba and Giroud in his starting line up at the expense of Sissoko and Griezmann. Very interesting. This would be an indication that Les Bleus will be looking very offensively minded. I like this formation from an offensive perspective, but there remains questions with regards to defending, especially on that left side with Benzema.

The line up - Lloris - Evra, Koscielny, Varane, Debuchy - Cabaye, Matuidi, Pogba - Benzema, Giroud, Valbuena

We all know what this line up did (swap out Pogba for Sissoko) against Switzerland. But that game's pace was dictated by the quick two goals scored by Les Bleus. That is not
You are a little heavier than Valbuena to carry around
something you can count on facing the Super Eagles. France will most likely have to play a match similar to all the other knock out round games - caution from both sides and the team to score first goes back into a shell to defend the lead. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Enyeama will be the x-factor for Nigeria. The Lille keeper is quietly one of the best in the world. Can the French attack break him down? I think they will be able to, but they need to hit crosses early and often into the area. Look for Giroud to knock down these crosses for Benzema and the midfielders making runs. Benzema will also need to be clinical with his finishing, his form against Ecuador will not work in this game. From the flip side, will the likes of Evra be able to slow down and contain the speed from a Musa coming in from the wing? Evra is also on a yellow...might this make him more cautious in his defending? Look for Matuidi to shadow that side a bit more to help with Musa. Cabaye will also be key. It has been overlooked in the Ecuador match that the PSG midfielder was not on the pitch (neither was Valbuena). While Le Petit Velo is clearly the offensive metronome for France, Cabaye's ability to cut down offensive forays by the opposition and more importantly be the launching pad with his surgical passing is vital for the French. The x-factor for France might be how Pogba plays. He gave some glimpses of his talent but he has also disappeared at times. Which Pogba do we see today? Remember - he is also on a yellow - something to watch for.

This game is by no means easy for either team. Nigeria was not overwhelming in their group matches, but they did what they had to. They are now playing with house money and many are touting France as a new team, one that can actually contend challenging for a ...gulp....title.  I am not as optimistic. I still think Les Bleus will emerge victorious from this match. But it will be a nail biter.

France 3 - Nigeria 1. Late goal from France make the score line more flattering.

Allez les Bleus!

France head into Nigeria game with serious question marks

Surprise surprise, Sakho might not be ready to go for the Nigeria match. Again...I call into question DD's decision to play the Liverpool man against Ecuador. Maybe he would still have been out for this match, but I have a feeling more rest would have been helpful. Now Deschamps approaches the knock out stage without his first choice central defender.

It would appear that Koscielny will partner with Varane in central defense. I will admit this pairing makes me a tad nervous. Not sure Kos has the athletic ability to keep up with some of the Super Eagles' strikers. Just look at Musa carving up the Argentine defense in their final group game. This will be something to watch for in the match.

Second thing to look for is how does the midfield do, especially Pogba who has been receiving some scrutiny lately about his temperament. The Juventus man is also victim to lofty expectations that were set from having such a wonderful domestic season. Latest report is that Pogba is in the starting line. I am not sure the criticism of Pogba have been fair. Other than a silly gesture against Honduras, Pogba has been playing well. To his lofty level? No. But that talent is hard not to have on the pitch.

Cause for celebration?
Finally what to do up front? Griezmann or Giroud? Clearly Valbuena and Benzema will start, but who to play that left wing?? Seems like it might be Giroud in the middle with Benzema on the left. I do like this formation, much more offensive and as we saw against Switzerland, lethal on the counter. Does DD hope he can catch lightening in a bottle again and see this
formation strike early?

There are some questions heading into the Nigeria game. I will be very curious to see what the actual team sheet looks like. The Super Eagles have every right to believe they can beat Les Bleus. They already did so last time they France! They have some pacey players that can cause the French defense some serious problems. On the flip side the Nigerian defense can be leaky as well. However, they do have the x-factor - their keeper, Enyeama. Who had an amazing 1,062 minutes without conceding a goal in Ligue 1 for Lille this season. Much like Ochoa for Mexico, this quality of a back stop can be a real difference maker. Something to watch for.

Regardless I am not ready to look past the Super Eagles. Was France's victory against Switzerland fools gold? Let us see who DD rolls out tomorrow!

Allez les bleus!

Friday, June 27, 2014

We are down to the final 16 at the World Cup. It has been a fabulous tournament so far, even with the incident in kindergarten with the 5 year old Suarez biting. I think the excitement will continue now that we have reached the knock out stage.

Right away there are some very interesting match ups....and there are potential match ups that might be in the works. Here are the Frog's predictions:

Brazil v Chile - This is the South American bracket, and a great match up in the first game. This could be Brazil's biggest threat to not reaching the finals. I just cannot envisage Brazil losing at home if they get past this round. Brazil and Chile have also met in the World Cup, in 1962, 1998 and 2010. Each time the Brazilians have emerged with a victory. The Brazilians have not lost to Chile on home soil in over a decade. So why should this match be any different? A few reasons: the pressure on the home side is mounting, their last outing aside I think Brazil might have trouble scoring if it isn't Neymar and Chile have their tails up after a strong group stage. I think this will be a very entertaining match but one where the host will get through. Brazil 3 - Chile 2.

Colombia v Uruguay - Another great Copa America semi final! Just think about the buzz had Falcao and Suarez been present. Alas one missed the entire tournament  because of a knee injury and one is just crazy and a biter. Regardless the match up has the potential to be one of the best games of this round. Colombia quietly dominated Group C - 9 goals for only 2 against. Uruguay on the other hand had one great match against England but otherwise looked very lackluster. Losing a shocker to Costa Rica and a drab game against Italy. Uruguay is also in disarray with the fall out from the Suarez suspension. There were even rumors that La Celeste would not play the match. I highly doubt that will happen. Uruguay can either rally around this or fall apart. Either way I think their game is negatively effected when they don't have their star striker - look at the Costa Rica game. Colombia 2 - Uruguay 0

Holland v Mexico - El Tri seem to always get to this stage in World Cups...and then not much further. Holland seems to be a wagon right now. Oranje is rolling. This will also prove to be a good match up with two sides that are not afraid to push forward. Mexico does have a wild card - Ochoa. If he plays like he did against Brazil, then anything is possible. I just do not see how Mexico will slow down both Robben and RVP. Holland 2 - Mexico 0

Costa Rica v Greece - Unfortunately this might be one of the more boring ties. But...since it is Costa Rica this adds some intrigue to the match. I truly believe that the speed Costa Rica has leveraged to win their group might cause the Greeks a lot of issues. Greece, by some,
More glory for CONCACAF?
is thought to have reached this level by chance. A fortunate penalty granted at the end of their match against Cote D'Ivoire. This is not the Greeks that won the Euros in 2004. I think we might be in for another shock from Costa Rica. Costa Rica 1 - Greece 0

France v Nigeria - Talk about soap operas. The Nigerian national team went on strike over...World Cup bonuses. Hmmmm strikes and World Cups. Sounds familiar. Between Nigeria and Ghana, what is going on with the African nations and the World Cup?? I had this match up when I saw the draw a few months ago. At the time I also toyed with the idea that Nigeria could upset France and move on. That fear is still lingering somewhere in my mind. Can't seem to shake it! Nigeria has some pace up front that will cause France some problems. Look at what it did against Argentina. However the other aspect that was on display was Nigeria's back line. It was not solid and seemed very leaky at times. Something France can exploit. France 3 - Nigeria 1 (a more in-depth look prior to the game)

Germany v Algeria - Get the 1982 stories ready! Algeria has been impressive. They have an infusion of talented attack minded players - Feghouli, Slimani, Brahimi to name a few. The question is can they hold up defensively against a very well run German machine. For the Germans it will be interesting to see if their back line - made up of 4 natural center backs - can hold up against some of the pace that the Algerian forwards will throw at them. If France win their game against Nigeria, either team from this match up would create a mouth watering match up. As much as I would like to pick or hope for an upset, I cannot pick against Die Mannschaft. RFA 3 - Algeria 1

Argentina v Switzerland - There is a lot of buzz, well at least coming from Switzerland, that the Swiss can pull off the upset. Especially after their last game against Honduras and Shaqiri's hat trick. I think the Swiss will play Argentina much tighter and will surprise many. But Messi and co are picking up momentum as well. Not sure if Switzerland will be able to keep down Del Maria, Messi, Higuain etc. Argentina 2 - Switzerland 0

USA v Belgium - The Red Devils have failed to impress. Yes they won their three group games, all by 1 goal. But neither Lukaku or Hazard or any of the other stars of the side have lived up to the hype. Some deemed Belgium as a dark horse to win the entire tournament. I just don't see it. They have a collection of big names but they don't seem to be playing well as a team. The US on the other hand, surprised everyone by getting out of the group of death...well they didn't surprise me since I pegged them to finish second! I think that some of the hype surrounding the US from North American pundits has been a tad overblown. The US national team has some flaws, center backs and Bradley seem shaky. But you heard it here first: USA 2 - Belgium 1

So there you have my picks. I am surprised that I did not pick any game to go to penalty kicks...lets hope that is the case!

Let the games begin tomorrow.

Round of 16 is set, looking back to one of the best group stages of any World Cup

The World Cup version 2014 has been nothing short of amazing. I was telling some friends this the best World Cup I have seen. I would compare it to the 1982 version. After Thursday, we knew who we would have in the round of 16. Some very intriguing match ups to say the least, more on that in another post. But for this post we should take a look back at the great matches we witnessed over the group stages. Here are some thoughts:

Best Matches - The three matches that stick out to me:
  • Holland v Spain - Right from the start we were given a match between two football super powers and the two teams that faced off in the World Cup finals in South Africa. The game did not let us down, well those of us who were neutral supporters or fans of Oranje! A good first half of back and forth footy. Had Silva scored on his clear cut opportunity and the game might have taken a very different tone. Alas for Spain, it was only a 1-1 draw at the half. The second half was a clinic of football when a pacy, lethal side faces an aging and maybe a little too lazy side. The game could have easily finished 6-1 or 7-1. Regardless, Oranje absolutely eviscerated by the likes of Robben and RVP. 
  • Uruguay v England - In the group of "Champions" this was a massive match up. Prior to the tournament it was already hyped up with Suarez facing England, the nation where he scores a ton of goals and bites players for a living with Liverpool. The game was only made more tense with both England and Uruguay having lost their first games of the group. The game was typical for England. A collection of names on the pitch that never seemed to know how to work together. Granted they put on a valiant effort. But clearly they were not a well functioning unit. One mistake and they saw Suarez bag his brace and send England home. 
  • Germany v Ghana - Yes this game ended in a draw. But both teams emptied their tanks. I have never seen a professional footy game where multiple players from both sides have their hands on their knees late in the game. 4 great goals. Germany opens the scoring on a typical German goal - well created, clinical finish. Ghana strikes back quickly with two beautiful goals. Finally they succumb to the German machine and ... Klose.  Who draws level with Ronaldo (the one from Brazil) for the all time leading goal scorer in the World Cup.
  • Other games of note: USA v Ghana, France v Switzerland, Argentina v Iran, Chile v Spain, Algeria v South Korea, Costa Rica v Italy.
Best Players - Here are the three players that have stepped it up
  • Robben from the Netherlands has been a man possessed. Like someone who missed some golden opportunities last World Cup and has something to prove! He and RVP absolutely shred Spain apart. Against Chile his pace was something Chile did not have an answer for. He and RVP will determine how far Holland can go this tournament.
  • Neymar from Brazil has been the safety blanket for the home nation. I was sitting with the Gooner at local watering hole watching the opening game between Brazil and Croatia and I remember telling him I thought Neymar was a tad overrated....oops. He has been a man on a mission for his home land. Brazil has become a little too over reliant on him, something to watch for as the tournament continues. But he has done nothing to disappoint in that trust placed in him.
  • Messi, much like Neymar, has been a one man life jacket for Argentina. Saving the Albiceleste in the first two matches from embarrassing results. After a failed 2010 World Cup, he clearly has stepped up his game for this version. Switzerland needs to figure out how to control the Barcelona man, not sure there is a solution to this challenge.
  • Other players of note: Dempsey USA, Benzema France, Muller Germany, Oscar Brazil.
Best Goals - there have been some amazing goals during the group top 3
  • RVP diving header against Spain. Absolutely ridiculous goal. High difficulty, ball from deep over his shoulder, decides do dive forward and just flick the ball over Casillas.  
  • Dempsey opens the scoring against Ghana. Watching the goal in replay you realize the ball control and fake he breaks out to get a clear look at goal...then he has the wherewithal to pick his head up and hit the ball with his left foot and tucks it in far post.
  • Shaqiri's hits a laser against Honduras. The Swiss fire hydrant of a winger cuts in from the right and hits a laser to the opposite corner. Just filthy.
  • Other goals - Messi's curler against Iran, Robben's second goal against Spain, Cahill's volley against Holland, Gyan's quick strike against Germany.  
Biggest Surprises:
  • Costa Rica...stuck in the group of Champions and they finish first? Wow. Good for them. Their pace could surprise Greece and get the CONCACAF side into the 1/4 finals. A real pleasant surprise.
  • Colombia, I was pleasantly surprised that this team has done so well. I thought that without Falcao they would struggle...just think how good they would be had their Monaco striker not been hurt!
  • CONCACAF - 3 out of 4 teams have advanced to the next round. And based on their match ups, all of the 3 nations have legitimate chances of advancing to the 1/4 finals. I am the first to make fun of the region...but they have proven me wrong.
  • Algeria - France's B team! They played Belgium close, and could have drawn or even won that match. Played a much more open and attacking football against South Korea and were rewarded. Facing Germany in the knock outs....queue up the 1982 footage.
 Biggest Disappointments:
  • a class of its own. I do not buy the argument that this tournament was "one too far." They still have plenty of talent - Cesc, Carzola, Silva, Pedro to name a few. But they seemed to "force" Costa into the top of their formation. Not only do I question whether or not he was fully fit, he also didn't seem to fit the system. Insisting on starting Casillas, a keeper that wasn't even his club's first choice, proved to be a disaster. Spain has to much talent to have crashed out this way.
  • Italy and England, I will lump them together since they played in the Group of Champions and both got dumped out. The game they played against each other was drab and the drabness only continued. The Azzurri looked awful against both Costa Rica and Uruguay. At least the Three Lions put up some fight against Uruguay. But overall the two former World Cup champs are heading home having one win, one draw, and 4 losses...ugly.
  • Cote D'Ivoire - The African side should have gone through, yes there was a dubious PK at the end of their game versus Greece, but it was a foul and a penalty. Samaris only kicked the ground because his legs got clipped. But still a disappointment for a nation that has carried the "best hope for Africa" for a few tournaments. I was hoping they would finally put it together and get through what was a weak group.
I am not going to call Portugal a disappointment, because I felt they were being over hyped to start with! Maybe it would have been better had Zlatan and Sweden qualified. This has been a great set of group games. And now the round of 16 starts. Take a breath on Friday and get ready starting Saturday!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Biggest match in US history to be played today...

Okay okay, that was a little bit of a sensationalist headline. This might be the biggest hyped game for the US mens' national footy team. I certainly do not diminish the importance of this match. When the draw first came out this group was widely seen as one of the leading candidates for the moniker "group of death." Deservedly so. After a stunning first match win versus Ghana and maybe an as stunning draw against Portugal, the US sits in a position
What do I do during the anthems??
otherwise only reserved for dreamers - one foot into the knock out round. However, all the hype surrounding this game is a tad overblown. Why? The US has over a 75% of qualifying. Those are pretty good odds. This is not a "do or die" game that the US media would like to hype it up to be. Even with a loss the US could still go through. A draw or win guarantees the US goes to the knock outs.

Of course there are some interesting undertones - Low used to work for Klinsmann....when Klinsmann managed the German national team. We all know that Klinsmann is...German. The number of US/German players that play for the United States. Yes these are good story lines. But they are just that...stories to hype up an otherwise simple game. Draw and move on. Add to this the fact that the Ghanaian camp is starting to resemble France 2010! The Portugal v Ghana game might not even be played with both teams pouting!

This all makes a good story line. This game is key for another reason - an opportunity for the US to see how they stack up against a world power on the biggest stage - but not really for qualification. Or might I be proven wrong??

I see a cautious game between both sides.

1-1 draw. Goals from Klose and Dempsey (Again).

France play a bland mid-November friendly versus Ecuador

Wait, what is that? This was a World cup game??? Really? Well that was 90 minutes of football watching I will never get back - a goalless draw - yuck. Not a huge surprise, France were clearly keeping an eye on the next round and clearly were more interested in getting through the game without hurting themselves. So off we go with the match break down:

The Good:
  • France finish first in the group - The qualification for Les Bleus into the knock out rounds was all but a formality. Mathematically France was still at risk for not qualifying, but they would have had to lose by at least 5 goals. Clearly neither team thought 5 goals would be scored combined by both teams. I don't think it can be over emphasized how important it is that France not only qualify out of their group but finish first. After what this team did to itself 4 years ago, this can only be regarded as positive.
  • All the French players are available - one got hurt...and that was not a guarantee after some of the tackles the Ecuadorian players were dishing out. I got a real scare when Matuidi took a heavy tackle that did not look good on his knee or Digne who's leg was used as a scratching post for Valencia's studs. With Evra sitting and Pogba not picking up another yellow card they will be both be available for Monday's game against Nigeria.
  • The Ecuadorian keeper Dominguez was absolutely huge. Granted France's players
    Big saves from the big man
    decided to see if they could all shoot right at him, but the keeper was still in the right place and made some strong saves. None bigger than on a Pogba header at the end of the first half. He was called upon to stand his ground in the second half, especially after Ecuador went down a man. He did so and earned himself a clean sheet.
  • The only French player that kept his game at a high level - Matuidi. He is the engine for Les Bleus. Found himself on his favorite left foot early on in the game but could not find the back of the net as he had against Switzerland. His clash early on in the game was one that made me hold my breath, even more so when they replayed it in super slow motion. Otherwise he seemed to be the only player who showed up, well other than Lloris. The PSG midfielder is clearly the engine room for Les Bleus. 
  • I have to give some good to Sagna as well. I have been critical of the former Arsenal back and the fact I think his crossing is putrid. However, in this game he defended well and had a few nice crosses that should have been better handled by the strikers. Then again maybe the strikers were shocked by the quality of service!
The Bad:
  • The effort from France was bad....very bad. I realize that Les Bleus were all but qualified heading into the game. But the effort demonstrated was barely one you would expect from a late season friendly. Of course this is not a blanket statement for the entire team. By no means am I saying this looked  like some of the efforts the squad has shown in prior tournaments - see all matches in 2010 or some from the Euro 2012. I am not as concerned about this as I might have been in the past. Hey they didn't lose!
  • I have to call out Deschamps here as well. There were some head scratching moves he made prior and then during the game. I am well aware that I am nitpicking. First I am curious as to why a player that came out of the last game due to injury, got a start in a game that wasn't vital to the cause. Sakho, had to leave the Switzerland game with a strain in his leg. Yet he started this game...and had to be taken out again in the
    All is well!
    second half. Maybe DD did not want to play Mangala and Kos together since they have had a great big zero minutes together on the field. But it just seemed a mighty big risk with a player France will rely on to anchor their defense. Second, I am curious as to why Sissoko in place of Valbuena. I certainly understand why DD wanted to sit Le Petit Velo, but why start a more deeper lying player when you had true right wing options on your bench? In particular Remy.  Why not start Remy? Let him get some run in since I have a feeling we might need him down the road. That would have also allowed Sissoko to get some rest, a player who might very well start, but back in the midfield trio. Finally I am not sure about the substitution patterns. Part of this goes back to starting Sakho. But having to bring in Varane, who was sick this week, in place of Sakho seemed to be a waste. I will admit I was harsher on DD when the move happened but I now recognize that he was trying to get Varane and Kos some time on the field together in case he needs to do so later in the tournament. But not sure if this would have been necessary had Sakho been rested. Remy did get on the field, but it felt like it was late. Why not get him a good 30 minutes of time? Just felt as if the substitutions could have been handled better. DD received a lot of accolades for having the courage to change his line up against Switzerland, he deserves some criticism for rolling out a team that just did not click tonight. 
  • Schneiderlin looked a little overwhelmed. Understandable for someone getting his first start at a World Cup...he never seemed to get into the flow of the game. Then again there never seemed to be a flow to the game regardless. It is also a daunting task since he is in the slot usually held by Cabaye. I don't think we will see the Southampton midfielder again this World Cup, but someone to keep an eye on as France heads towards the Euros.
The Ugly:
  • Benzema and his "finishing": After basking in the glow of his first two World Cup games, he clearly decided to take this one off. He was timid in the air, didn't attack the ball and his finishing touch was...well abysmal.  He looked like the striker that went over 1000 minutes without scoring a goal. Now I am not going to make too much out of this, much like the rest of the team it felt as if he was going through the motions. But it was UGLY.
  • Ecuadorian thugs...clearly the South Americans thought they had to try and maul the
    How does my foot taste?
    French to get to the knock out round. It wasn't just the leg mauling that Valencia dispensed, but it felt like the entire team was thugging the French. 
Overall a very forgettable game, other than the fact France qualified in first place of their group. I do not believe in the "momentum" notion. All 16 teams that get to the knock outs start all over again. It is all about survive and move on. The silver lining, hopefully, is that this bad game is out of France's system. Every team usually has a not so good outing during these tournaments, better get them out of the way before serious business starts. For now we can enjoy the fact Les Bleus are back in the knock out round. But let's put this game behind!

Allez les Bleus!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Deschamps turning over his starting line up again - 6 changes?

As it appeared earlier this week, it appears that DD will turn over more than 50% of his starting line up from the one that put up 5 1/2 goals against Switzerland (I give Benzema a 1/2 goal for the one he scored at the end of the game!).

The expected line up -

L’√©quipe probable : Lloris -  Sagna, Koscielny, Sakho, Digne - Pogba, Schneiderlin, Matuidi - Sissoko, Benzema, Griezmann

  • Both full backs will be swapped out with Digne and Sagna getting the nods.
  • 2 changes in the middle three from the ones that started against Switzerland - Pogba back in as a starter and World Cup debut for Schneiderlin.
  • Griezmann back up front...but not Sissoko on the right wing over Valbuena. Interesting. 

Deschamps has always implied that what he likes about Sissoko is the ability of the Newcastle midfielder to play multiple roles - defensive midfielder, wide player and even as a #10 on the pitch. Something to watch, I still see Sissoko as more of a defensive player. Could DD be trying this out to counter some of Ecuador's outside speed? I would have thought that Remy might have been given the start on the right side.

Deschamps is clearly tackling this match as a fait accompli with regards to France's
First taste of the World Cup
qualification to the next round. Which I would agree with. For France to NOT qualify they would have to lose to Ecuador by more than 4 goals and for Switzerland to blitz Honduras. Could happen...very unlikely it will not happen. And it is not as if Deschamps' second options to roll out are chopped liver. It is smart to get some of his bench players some time at the World Cup. I would not have been surprised if he had opted to have Ruffier in net over Lloris. But I have a feeling he wants to ensure his #1 keeper gets time behind the defensive rotation, in case he has to have them in front of him later in the tournament.

If this is the line up that comes onto the pitch tomorrow, it is almost a hybrid 4-4-2 with Sissoko dropping back to form a four man midfield while Griezmann and Benzema act as the two high players. This could be to allow France to absorb pressure from Ecuador and look to hit on the counter. France is almost assured to not only go through but also in the first position in the group, so they can sit back and absorb the pressure. Ecuador is going to look to win this game. They are ahead of Switzerland right now, but they need a result against Les Bleus and hope that Switzerland doesn't. With this potential formation, it appears that DD will roll out a team that can defensively sound, manage the pace of the game and look for Benzema or Griezmann to exploit any counters the French can launch.

I expect Ecuador to start out aggressively, look to find an early goal against the French. If they can somehow spring an early surprise they might be then content to sit back themselves and look to counter through their pacey players. If Les Bleus can weather a potential offensive push early from Ecuador, both teams might sit back and play cautiously until the second half. Depending on what is happening in the other game the pace of the second half might take on a much different look. I also think that Deschamps will want his side to look for a result, keep their positive momentum going. But what he certainly wants to avoid is to create a situation where his defensive gets exposed - and where questions start to arise.

Look for Remy, Mavuba and Giroud to get some time in the second half. Depending on the situation I could see Pogba being taken off for Remy who would slot to the right and allow Sissoko to drop back to the middle three. Mavuba could replace Matuidi and Giroud in for Benzema.

I look for a very cautious first half, but a much more open second (much like many of the other games this week). France keep their momentum going but Ecuador gives them a run for the their money.

France 3 - Ecuador 1

Allez Les Bleus!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The luxury of 6 points heading to last group game - Deschamps with more changes?

Now it appears that a starting central defender might be out for the Ecuador game for France...but it isn't Sakho. Instead it appears that the young Real Madrid central defender Varane might be out. From what appears to be a bad stomach bug, maybe drank some of the local water,Varane appears to be out for the last group match. Add this to the yellow card accumulations for Cabaye and there are two starters from the first two games that will not be present against Ecuador. From the reports coming out of the French camp, the line up for Wednesday might be very different.
  • Back to Griezmann over Giroud? Appears this might be the case. If so, not a big fan of this move. In a way we know that this formation works, with Griezmann a natural left winger. But there is something intriguing about having both Giroud and Benzema on the pitch together. In addition, this match I expect Ecuador will pack the in back and look to hit on the counter. A perfect type of match for a player like Giroud who offers a good target man in the box.
  • The first start for Schneiderlin? This would be very interesting. A player that the English press was at times falling over itself to find a way to have play for England. Would DD want to put in the Southampton midfielder in over Mavuba who appeared to be the like for like replacement for Cabaye? I like it. Let us see how the midfielder
    Ready to start in World Cup for Engla...err France
    would function in the role usually held by Cabaye. He would also bring some height to the line up - something Mavuba doesn't have. Morgan might be needed later in this tournament, if France progress, so get him some run.
  • The fullbacks - seems like DD will go with his secondary options for right and left back. With Sagna and Digne starting over Debuchy and Evra. This would protect Evra and his yellow card, as well as getting Digne some World Cup action. Important considering that Evra's yellow card would still be hanging over his head in the first know out game...I do not have any concerns with either starting.
  • Going back to a 4-4-2? It appears that Valbuena will sit, hmmm. I am okay resting Le Petit Velo, but doing so to go a very defensive midfield? Not sure about that. I would accept sitting Valbuena and having Remy or Cabella given the start out on the right wing, sticking with a 4-3-3, this might be the case since in another formation DD inserted Giroud and Remy in place of Benzema and Matuidi - that would most likely see Giroud as the center forward, with Remy on the right, Griezmann on the left.
The potential line up -

L’√©quipe probable : Lloris - Sagna, Koscielny, Sakho, Digne - Pogba, Schneiderlin, Matuidi - Sissoko, Benzema, Griezmann

We have another day of training so all this might change. But it appears that Les Bleus will roll out a very different line up and potentially formation on Wednesday.

Allez les bleus.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sakho out for France vs surprise

Not a major surprise that the Liverpool central defender is out with a knock to his leg. This will most likely see the pairing of Koscielny and Varane in the center of the French defense. There are some who point out that France gave up two goals once this pairing was on the pitch Friday. I find this criticism a tad unfair to the Arsenal defender. The first goal given up on Friday was because a free kick taken from distance was allowed to easily pass through the three man wall...that was the wall's fault not Kos. And the second goal, while it came off Kos' back, was really more on Debuchy who did not hold the line with the defense, otherwise the play would have been off sides.

So we know of two players who started the first two games - Sakho and Cabaye - who will not play on Wednesday. Does this give Deschamps the opportunity to change some other personnel? As I wrote in my last post I think the situation with both Evra and Pogba remain something to watch.

Let us see how the week unfolds.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Les Bleus - pump the brakes a bit after great showing against Switzerland

Group E

These are the standings of Group E after day #2 of the group matches. The euphoria of the majestic 5-2 win for Les Bleus over Switzerland is still palpable. Some press are even putting France into the category of potential winners. I am not ready to go there.

France are not even qualified for the knock out round. Every team in Group E are mathematically still alive for the knock out rounds. However for France to make it would take a monumental collapse that not even the Red Sox of French football team could find a way of making happen. France would have to lose to Ecuador and the Swiss would have to make up the 8 goal differential. A monumental collapse no doubt.

So let us assume the France go through and most likely in first place. Meaning they will miss facing the Argentinians in the next round. But France and DD face some interesting questions with regards to how they should approach Ecuador. In the World Cup you need to keep an eye on the knock out stages at this point. Deschamps has two players on yellow cards - Pogba and Evra. Neither of which DD would want to lose for the knock out rounds. But there is a wrinkle to that, more on that later.

DD also has to deal with a Sakho that might not be 100% fit. As well as Cabaye that is not able to play in the game - that might not be a bad thing since he will start the knock outs yellow card free.

Deschamps should look at the Ecuador match as a half World Cup half friendly, I realize that might sound arrogant but France need to think about the next rounds. They need a win or draw against Ecuador to ensure they get through, but as I stated even a loss allows them through as long as the 8 goal differential isn't overturned. Here are some thoughts:

Ready to start in place of Cabaye?
  • Keep the trio of Benzema, Giroud and Valbuena in the starting line up. It has been a pleasant surprise the two times it has been rolled out. An 8-0 and 5-2 wins against Jamaica and Switzerland. I certainly do not expect such a goal deluge each time this line up rolls out there, but it seems to have some real teeth to it. The question becomes will it have success if and when it faces the metal of international football? Now is the time to get it some time.
  • Look for Mavuba in the place of Cabaye. That seems to be DD's choice of like for like substitution. The Lille captain will be a solid replacement for the PSG midfielder. I am not sure that Mavuba can replicate the passing accuracy of Cabaye. But he can certainly more than replicate the defensive efforts.
  • Kos or Mangala to shoulder Varane? Based on the substitution patterns it would appear the Arsenal man will get the nod. Even if Sakho is healthy enough to play I might not want to risk further injury if it can be avoided. Some have pointed out that the second Swiss goal came off the back of Kos, but if Debuchy had done his job the play would have been off side and no harm would have been suffered. I think Kos is more than capable of playing along side Varane in the back.
  • What to do with the yellow carded players? As I mentioned both Pogba and Evra are on a yellow. In a way, I bet deep down inside DD might have hoped that both had picked up yellows yesterday. Against Ecuador I am not sure Deschamps would have been too nervous having to start Digne at left back and not having Pogba available. I am not so sure he feels the same if he has to start Digne against say Bosnia or....Germany. How might that happen you ask? Let's say Evra plays against Ecuador and does not get a yellow, he will still be sitting on his yellow from the Honduras game in the first round of knock outs. Imagine France plays Bosnia, which is a physical team to play. A game where cards might be flying fast and furious. As a defender he has a strong likelihood of potentially getting another card...he would then miss, assuming France get through, the 1/4 finals. Which could very well be against...Germany. Who have Gotze and Ozil as wide players. You see the potential danger! I might be over thinking this, but DD needs to think and look ahead.
  • With this in mind, even if Evra plays, I would expect Digne to get in a good 30
    Would be very different against the senior squad
    of time on the field - as long as the game allows it. Get the PSG left back some game time at the World Cup, in case he is needed later due to the yellow cards. A player like Schneiderlin might also get some run to provide cover for a Pogba and the other midfielders.
France and Deschamps can go into the Ecuador match a little more at ease than might have been hoped 2 weeks ago. Of course they cannot take anything for granted, but even with a number of bench players in the starting line up France should be more than competitive against Ecuador. I certainly do not expect 5 goals, but a result is well within reach.

Keep an eye on the Sakho injury this week as well as how Deschamps manages his yellow card players.

Allez les Bleus.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Les Bleus! France play like it is the 1958 World Cup - lots of goals...for both sides

I will freely admit I was nervous even when France had a 5 goal lead...and I was sort of vindicated when Les Bleus decided to give back 2 goals. Okay okay that is the cynical side of me. What a game from France!

I told the Gooner that I would stay positive with this here is the good...and only good.

The Good:
  • Five goals from five different players...from that stand point it was nothing short of spectacular. France might have been able to add at least a couple more as well - Benzema missing the penalty and Cabaye some how hitting the cross bar on the follow up. As well as Benzema on a second half volley that the Benaglio made a strong save on. France was able to score from the run of play as well as from a set piece. They also were very dangerous on the break, Valbuena scoring from a fantastic break that started from a defended corner - Varane broke out and put a ball to space where Giroud was hustling back from defending the corner to pick out a clinical pass to Le Petit Velo. I think that is the most the big Arsenal striker has run ... ever. 
  • Benzema - remember when Karim went dog years without scoring a goal? Thankfully that seems behind him. 3 goals in two games...and could have been more! He arguably had a hat trick against Honduras and if he had hit his PK oh and if the official had waited a few seconds to whistle the end of the game...okay okay...I realize I am
    Acrobatic volley bags Benzema his 3 goal of WC
    being greedy. But what is good is that he is clearly in form right now. His goal was a pure striker goal, a great diagonal run into the box, Pogba served him a sumptuous ball that as a good striker, he just put in the back of the net. Never looked at goal, just put it exactly where he wanted. Even though the last goal didn't count, do not underestimate what the strike does for his confidence. In his mind he knows he can score and take chances like all good strikers have to do. He also can add two assists to his tally. After his first two World Cup games, it appears that the Real Madrid striker is enjoying the biggest stage.
  • Pogba's pass was a pure caviar of a through ball. A cheeky pass, with the outside of his foot from about 30 meters out, right into the path of Benzema was nothing short of splendid. One commentator said it was Zidane-esc, It might very well have been.
  • A wonderful first goal from Giroud. The Arsenal man did not look thrilled to have been taken off by DD. I am sure he thought there were other goals for him out there. But a goal and an assist is not a bad day at the office for the striker. I will be interested to see if DD sticks with his formation of Giroud and Benzema on the pitch together. 
  • France put themselves in a good position - getting 6 points from their first two games cannot be underestimated in terms of importance. They are virtually assured of going through, the only question is whether in first or second place. Their goal difference also doesn't hurt. All they need is a draw against Ecuador to assure they get through and probably in first place. The ability to head into the last game without major pressure to win is a huge plus. This will also allow Deschamps to protect his side, the players on yellow cards as well as turn over his roster and get some players on the pitch. This allows Deschamps to turn one eye to the knock out round. This might be even more apparent if the result tonight puts France through - a draw or a loss by Ecuador and France is through. 
  • The French depth of roster - Les Bleus have a deep roster. This should not be a surprise for a nation like France, but it is encouraging to see when in action. Being able to bring in a Pogba or Griezmann is impressive. Being able to see Sakho have to come off and being replaced by Koscielny is also a great example of the depth. This depth might be on display again in the next match. We know that Cabaye will not play
    Not bad when you can bring him off the bench
    since he received a second yellow. It will be interesting to see if Sakho is healthy enough to go, or if Deschamps replaces him regardless to protect his central defender. Evra and Pogba are also on yellow cards from the Honduras game, maybe DD sits both of them to protect them from missing the first game of knock out. Although DD might have wanted to both to get a yellow in this clear the slate...alas couldn't game the system.
  • Deschamps needs to get credit, regardless of how this World Cup ends, on having done wonders to have changed the team attitude and make up. After two World Cup games it appears that DD has the team playing in harmony and as a team. Something that was not uttered 4 years ago, maybe even 2 years ago during the Euros. Watching the team celebrate after the goals there seems a real unity, I realize that is a small part but in the last few tournaments there was not much celebrating...and when there was it was often marred by histrionics. See Nasri's goal against England in the Euros. 
  • France join Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina, as the only nations who have score a century of goals in the World Cup. Their total tally is 104. Not bad company to be in!
Like I said earlier, only good in this post. Even the late two Swiss goals will not be allowed to get me down - plus Benzema had the sixth...had the official allowed play to continue for a few more seconds. What a difference 4 years make, this time during the South African world cup France had score zero goals, lost to Mexico and drawn with Uruguay...and about to have their mutiny. Much more enjoyable this time around! I will be very interested to see what happens with regards to Sakho and his injury, as well as how Deschamps tackles the last group game. The result from Ecuador v Honduras will determine a lot of how DD can go into the last match. A draw would be nice. Guarantee France go through and most likely in the #1 spot.

More work ahead for Deschamps, but tonight he can have a glass of champagne.

Allez les Bleus!!

France v Switzerland: key match for Group E and DD with some surprises

France and Switzerland will face off later today in Arena Fonte Nova. This game will most likely determine who finish atop the group and who might be facing a nervy final day. There has been a lot said that both sides would fancy a draw since it would almost surely guarantee both go through to the knock out stage. I think that on the contrary both sides will be looking for a full three points. Neither team wants to assume anything about their last games and neither team wants to finish second. Why? Since the runner up of Group E faces the first place team of Group F...which should be Argentina. Want to avoid La Albiceleste in the first match of knock out!

Heading into the match, there is already some interesting news from the French camp. Deschamps has apparently decided to make some changes to his line up that dominated a weak Honduras side.

  • Giroud in, Griezmann out. I am surprised by this move. Not that the Arsenal striker does not deserve a start based on how he was playing in the warm up matches. However I am surprised from a tactical stand point. Assuming that DD rolls out a 4-3-3 with Benzema - Giroud - Valbuena across the top. This could be a very powerful offensive formation - see my previous post about the flexibility in attack this formation gives. The issue is on defense. And this might be even more exposed against the Swiss. The Swiss right flank has some real threats. Shaqiri the right winger and
    You want to back track? Or should I?
    Lichsteiner the right back. The Bayern Munich winger is a real attacking threat, he does like to drift to the middle and cut inside. That will drag Evra into that space. Leaving the wide channel open for the marauding right back from Juventus, Lichsteiner. Neither Benzema nor Giroud is a true winger in the sense that they take the defensive responsibilities of that role to heart. I had more faith that Griezmann, a natural left winger, would ensure he assumed is responsibilities to track back and most importantly check any runs from the Swiss right back. With two natural center forwards on the pitch, DD will have to ensure one of his midfield trios cheats left to cover for his left wing not back tracking. This might fall to the likes of Cabaye, he will need to be aware of the space that gets greated when Shaqiri pulls Evra to the middle of the park and space opens up on that side.
  • No Pogba? The other rumor is that DD will start Sissoko in place of the Juventus midfielder. That is a real surprise to me. I thought if anyone in the midfield that started against Honduras would sit it would be Cabaye due to the knock he picked up. One argument is that Pogba was targeted for some extra attention against Honduras, could have gotten red carded and did pick up a yellow card. If that is the reason I am a little disappointing. Pogba plays his club football at one of the world's largest clubs in a very physical league - Italy. He is targeted because he is so good and influential on play. I am not arguing that we should use the World Cup to prepare Pogba for such treatment, but come on...he is a professional. Trust him that he can contain his emotions. If we would sit players because of their temperament then how did the likes of Zidane, Keane, Cantona etc ever get to play? Hopefully this is simply a rumor. Pogba's talents are too good to leave on the bench for fear he gets a yellow card...
Clearly DD is looking to carry the game to the Swiss if he has both Giroud and Benzema on the pitch together. Deschamps is taking a chance. If the Swiss are getting numbers up and taking advantage of the French left it could be a very long day for Les Bleus. If having Benzema out on the left forces Lichsteiner to be more conservative in his runs then maybe DD has taken the initiative. This is something to watch early on.

Also look how the French midfield operates if they have Sissoko rather than Pogba. The Newcastle midfielder provides some different options for France but he isn't like Pogba - a box to box midfielder that can control the midfield.

This is a big match for Les Bleus. There is much euphoria over their 3-0 win over Honduras. Which might be fools' gold - Honduras were down a player all second half, something to keep in mind when looking at the final statistics for the game. France will be facing a nation that is ranked in the top ten, if you take any value in those rankings....I don't take too much value from them! But the Swiss have some real talent in their ranks - the aforementioned Shaqiri and Lichsteiner, as well as the likes of Xhaka, Drmic and Inler. They are also managed by a wily managing veteran - Hitzfeld.

I look for a cautious match by European neighbors. France go up 1-0 mid second half from a Giroud strike, but conceded late. France 1 -  Switzerland 1.

Allez les Bleus!

Monday, June 16, 2014

France get the necessary 3 points...what a change from 4 years ago

Ooof, Les Bleus secure the essential. Playing the weakest team in the group they did what they had to...get the win. And they did in a workman like fashion - they won by 3 goals but could have been a heavier victory.

The Good:
  • Benzema - amazing that this is his first World Cup, granted he is probably happy to have been left off the squad from South Africa. Not only did the Real Madrid man score a brace (could have been a hat trick had the OG from Valladares been given to the French striker) but he was ever present on the offensive end. He was ever the threat, slipping behind the defense on numerous occasions and dangerous on the diagonal runs. His second goal was one from a striker in full confidence. From a wicked rebound he was able to pounce and strike from a ridiculous angle. If he can keep this form running...look out.
  • For once, Les Bleus did not have a lot of drama surrounding the team and game. It feels as if the past few tournaments have had their fair share of drama. Much of this was a direct link to the idiot manager France insisted on keeping for 3 tournaments - Domenech. But even the last Euros with Blanc at the helm, there was drama in the first game and that was only magnified with Nasri's "shut up" gesture directed towards the press after scoring the equalizer against England. As I said in the opening, France were workman like. They did what they had to do to win the game.
  • The 4-3-3 is chugging along...and keeping France's best players on the pitch. Not that I had any doubts but it was good to see it in full effect. And it really worked because of Benzema up front. He was able to hold up the ball well even when being double teamed. Griezmann and Valbuena did well in their channels, and while they were never really under tremendous pressure they back tracked as they were required. It will not be as easy moving forward, but the formation and line up seem to be working. The reality with Benzema on the pitch is that he is a tremendous offensive talent when things are right...but he does not track back. If he plays on the left with Giroud in the middle that creates a potential defensive hole...something to keep in mind.
  • The new kids did not look out of place. The youngsters of the starting line up - Griezmann, Varane and Pogba did not look out of place at all. Remember that all three of these players could have been at the U20 World Cup last year. Pogba was there and captained France to a world title (Varane was injured and Griezmann was suspended). Pogba had a good game, not great, but good. More on him later. Griezmann was on the end of a cross early on that found its way to a cross bar. Varane was not really called upon, but I did like seeing him going into a hard 50/50 at the end of the game when the result was no longer in doubt. He also provided a glare directed at the Honduran striker that showed he was focused and certainly not intimidated.
  • Goal line technology...the second goal was determined to be a goal based on the new technology. Watching the play in hi-def it was almost impossible to determine whether or not the entire ball had crossed the goal line. From the naked eye I would not call the shot a goal...but that is why the technology is in place. Oh what a difference it would have made 4 years ago during the England - Germany match!
The Bad:
  • This might be knit-picking...but French finishing. Yes they scored 3 goals. But they hit two cross bars and I still do not know how Matuidi did not score in the second half where a slick cross from Evra fell right onto Matuidi's run. Only to see the PSG midfielder hit the wrong side of the side netting. Add to this a few cross bars and what was a 3-0 could easily have been 4 or 5. Not vital for this match, but France need to be more clinical with their chances since I doubt they will have an easier match than this one moving forward.
  • Yellow cards. The game in the first half was vicious. Lots of hard tackles and some thuggish play from Honduras. France took the bait at times and some key players picked up yellows - Cabaye, Evra and Pogba. In these tournaments these card picked up early can come back to haunt a team hoping to get to the knock out stage with their full compliment of players. For a game so one sided you would not expect to have this many cards to go along with the victory. 
The Ugly:
  • Pogba's tussle with Palacio was ugly. I was texting with the Gooner and I agree
    Pogba please meet the underside of my boot
    with what he stated that Pogba could have easily gotten a red card for his kicking out. Granted Palacio was playing like a goon. Clumsy in his tackles and reckless. But no excuse kicking out. Beckham received a red card for a much less violent kick out in 1998. Pogba needs to watch himself. He is young and plays in the middle of the park. So he is regularly around the ball. I also think he will be targeted by the opposing teams for "special attention." Trying to knock him off his game.  This will only intensify as France continues in this tournament. something the Juventus midfielder needs to be aware of.
So a good result for Les Bleus. They got the 3 points and even gave themselves a nice goal differential. The next match will most likely determine who finishes top of the group. Many have stated that both sides will be content with a draw. Not sure about that. More on that as we get closer to the match. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ding dong the king is dead - Spain get trounced at World Cup

Okay not so fast...Spain took a severe correction yesterday at the World Cup, losing the rematch, 5-1, from the finals 4 years ago to Holland. Too bad Robben wasn't able to finish 4 years ago. If he had maybe it would have been the Dutch with a star on their crest. So I guess we can start writing Spain's obituary...or maybe not.

Granted I have never seen Spain play so poorly since the Spanish Armada met Francis Drake. Spain looked completely out of sorts. Their back line was terrible at best. There was no pace, no positioning and frankly no fight. Ramos and Pique were constantly torched by Robben in the second half. Casillas looked like a back up keeper, one that hasn't played
Don't they know we are defending World Cup Champs??
much all season. And the usual Spanish possession didn't have the same effect it normally does. Oh and Costa looked like a donkey. The Brazilian striker, who plays for Spain, looked like a round peg in a hexagonal hole. It felt as if Del Bosque started the striker because he had to, not because it fit his system.

I am not ready to write off the Spanish just yet. They face Chile in the next game, and after watching the South Americans against Australia, I am not ready to crown them as others have. Spain can and should win that match. As long as Del Bosque makes some changes. Then Spain will play Australia in the last game. Assuming Spain get, at worst, a draw against Chile, they have every chance to go through in second place if they can defeat the Wallabies and pad their goal differential.

Some changes Del Bosque should make -

  • Have one holding midfielder rather than the "double pivot" I would bench Busquets. He has not looked good lately, other than in his diving and complaining. Keep Alonso as cover in front of the back 4. 
  • Speaking of the back 4...get a center back that knows how to defend. Or remind Ramos that he is not Beckenbauer and to hold his position. Also don't be afraid to knock down a striker when they are 40 yards from don't have the speed to shut them down if they get a step.
  • Bring more speed to the wings. Get that gadfly Pedro more time out on the wings.  Put Silva on the other wing, and go back to your false 9. This ensures you get your best players, aka Cesc and Pedro, on the pitch.
  • Oh and when chasing a goal or goals, not sure Torres should be your #1 choice. His time has past...about 3 years ago.
  • Not sure he would but I might consider sitting Casillas as well...De Gea's time has come.
Spain can still do some damage. This might be the wake up call they needed for one last run. And before we crown Holland, let's not forget that in the 2008 Euro they steam rolled, including a similar thrashing of France, through the group stages...and then got dropped by Russia in the knock outs.

I will say a great start to the tournament regardless.

Friday, June 13, 2014

With Griezmann or Giroud? DD weighing his options

The latest out of the France should come with no surprise - DD is weighing his options with the left wing. Does he go back with the player that is a natural left winger - Griezmann? Or does he go back to having both Giroud and Benzema on the pitch?

We know that DD is going with a 4-3-3, if he goes with the safe play he inserts Griezmann on the left. The Real Sociedad winger fits the profile of a natural left winger. He would allow Benzema to slot back into the middle of the offensive formation. But that also means you are leaving one of your "in form" players - Giroud - on the bench. Is that wise? As I wrote about in a previous post. Having Giroud and Benzema on the pitch offers some interesting options with the offensive front three. They can easily drop into a 4-3-2-1 formation or a 4-3-1-2 depending on if they need to clog the midfield to keep possession, the former or chase a goal the latter.

Here is what it could look like with Giroud/Benzema:

How the 4-3-3 would start off with Benzema on the left
If France need to lay back and seek possession they can drop Benzema and Valbuena deeper on the pitch. It would resemble the Christmas Tree formation that the Italians sometimes lean on. Provides a very strong defensive foundation from which to counter. The key is Giroud up high, atop the offensive triangle. He will be called on to hold the ball to allow the other players to make diagonal runs into the box.
Giroud sits high with Benzema and Valbuena dropping deeper
If Les Bleus are looking to be more attacking then they can push Benzema higher on the pitch and allow Valbuena to roam behind the two strikers. Giving Le Petit Velo the freedom to carry the creative play for France.
Valbuena would be given the space to roam the midfield
Of course the one aspect that I am sure DD is contemplating is that if he plays Benzema on the left, he will be putting added pressure on his holding midfielders as well as Evra. Benzema, unlike Griezmann, does not know what playing defense means. He cannot be count on to back track and to stop the opposing teams right full back making deep runs. This is something that DD has to take into consideration, especially with the Swiss looming who has Lichtsteiner as their marauding right back. With a defensive liability already on the right - Debuchy - France might not be able to take on the challenge of having two such challenges to face.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the tunnel on Sunday.

Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup kicks off...and already controversy

Brazil opens up their tournament with a deceiving 3-1 win over Croatia. Croatia didn't even score a goal, since their tally was from a Marcelo OG. Here are some observations:

  • Brazil will go as far as Neymar and Oscar carry them offensively. Granted that is not a bad combination to lean on. But I am not ready to equate this team to the 1970 Brazilian squad. Fred is not a world class striker anymore...was he ever? Hulk just doesn't seem to be the player he was when he played in Portugal. The fullbacks bring some offense but at what cost? More on that later. What I was a bit surprised was that Croatia did not muscle up the two Brazilian creative players more. I wouldn't be surprised if Mexico and Cameron did not try to dispense a few hard tackles on these two. 
  • Speaking of fullbacks...the Brazilian fullbacks are questionable defensively. Especially Alves. The Barca left back looked totally out of sorts as Olic had some dangerous runs during the first half. It was interesting to watch as Silva had to constantly cover that spot. On the Croatian goal look who had to shift over to close down the space. I do not think this will be an issue in the group stage, but keep an eye
    He dove...err was fouled right there
    on this once it gets to the knock outs. I also question Cesar. He made some okay saves but some that looked very shaky.
  • Diving diving diving. Okay I will admit this wasn't that bad in this game...except for the penalty kick. What an absolutely awful call by the referee. If this game were played anywhere else but Brazil and the referee doesn't whistle anything. Yes the Croatian defender Lovren had a hand on Fred, but the Brazilian striker was leaning back trying to box out Lovren. All the defender did was shift to get position and Fred's weigh took him backward and he decided to flop. The official got duped or wanted to give the home side a call...terrible call. Check that official's bank account...make sure he has received some cash from the Brazilian federation recently.
Overall a typical opening game. Some good action, lots of caution but at least there were 4 goals. Nothing has changed with this group - Brazil will emerge in the first spot, and the battle will be for the second slot.

Now the fun really begins where we will be getting multiple games every day.