Thursday, June 26, 2014

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!

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