Domenech puts faith in Malouda to contain French revolution
France v Mexico; Today, 7.30pm, BBC1
Polokwane means "a place of refuge" and France are a team in need of one, mostly from each other. The side that plays against Mexico tonight has been portrayed as a disunited group of footballers with little time for each other and even less for their soon-to-depart manager, Raymond Domenech.
The luxurious refuge that Domenech has devised for them, amid the stinkwood trees of Knysna was, in their manager's eyes, supposed to take away "every excuse for failure". However, a base by the Indian Ocean appears no kind of preparation for the altitude they will encounter in the Peter Mokaba Stadium, which will not affect Mexico, who play their home games in the height and heat of the Azteca Stadium. As Mexico proved amid the nerves, emotions and noise of the opening fixture against South Africa, they are not afraid to attack, while their manager, Javier Aguirre, is old enough and tough enough to know a wounded opponent when he sees one.
For all the concerns about altitude, France performed feebly at sea level in Cape Town, a performance which was hardly helped by Domenech's decision to omit Thierry Henry and, especially, Florent Malouda. Since Abou Diaby produced one of the few commanding performances seen on Friday night, Domenech's decision was not altogether wrong.
Malouda will return in an attempt to provide the link between midfield and attack that a limited Uruguay had no difficulties in severing at Green Point. France, in their manager's words, lacked "la dernière geste" – a more elegant phrase than "the final ball".
And so, too, might Henry. That would mean shifting Nicolas Anelka, whom, according to Malouda is "a man whom I would trust with my eyes shut," to the right of a three-man formation, with Franck Ribéry supporting Henry. Anelka may not like it but that, in the words of a player with whom he shares a dressing-room at Stamford Bridge, is "the weight of the national team".
What to watch out for: Player power
If Henry returns, it may be the manager's decision or it may be something forced on him by his players.
Before their flight north, Malouda admitted that all the criticism had drawn blood. And despite the remarks of the Barcelona defender, Eric Abidal, that: "he has told us for years not to pay attention to it", Domenech might have also have been wounded by it.
Not everyone can be like the Toulouse striker, Andre-Pierre Gignac, who laughed that when you have a collection of DVDs there is no need to surf the internet for what is being said about you in Paris and Marseilles.
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