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.

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