Ecuador vs France: France reap rewards of Didier Deschamps’ decision to ditch the troublemakers
Having nearly fluffed their chance of being at the World Cup altogether, France are turning into a team that look like they could win it
rio de janeiro
Tuesday 24 June 2014
Around the French camp over the past week, Patrice Evra has apparently been keen to make sure everyone actually catches the mood of optimism. He’s been telling younger team-mates to savour the jubilant atmosphere, to enjoy properly a hugely promising World Cup for the squad so far.
“Don’t worry more than is necessary,” the 33-year-old has said. He would know all about how damaging that can be. Anxiety and agitation have been the prevailing moods of French campaigns from before he first made his debut in 2004. Evra entered a team still recovering from the dismay of 2002 and remained present through the shambles of Euro 2008, the shame of 2010, right up to the 2-0 first-leg defeat to Ukraine in the play-off for this very World Cup.
As regards that last match, it is remarkable just how much has spun on one recovery. The 3-0 second-leg win was, according to French Football Federation president, Noel Le Graet, “a sea change”.
Didier Deschamps’ side are now on a wave. The performances in this World Cup have washed away 12 years of rancour. Now, there is only freshness, hope and enjoyment. It is all so different for France. It has also been a very long time coming, but has had a remarkably quick effect.
The glee has been evident in every facet of their games so far, from the thrilling 3-0 win over Honduras to the stunning statement of the 5-2 victory over Switzerland. As they prepare for today’s final group game with Ecuador, they are up there with the most prolific teams in the tournament.
Some quiet caution is necessary. The mood may have picked up momentum precisely because of the lower quality of opposition, and there is no doubt Swiss naivety played into French feet. Similarly, it has been argued that Franck Ribéry’s injury has freed players on the pitch.
At the same time, the work that Deschamps has done to foster the right atmosphere – and thereby the right play – should not be dismissed.
Most obviously, he used the first-leg defeat to Ukraine as an excuse to do everything on his terms; to excise troublesome players. Samir Nasri has been the most conspicuous absence, but it has had a conspicuous effect. Deschamps has repeatedly said it is not just about talent any more. After 12 years of torrid atmospheres, it is about character; about the collective.
From there, he has put in place a well-balanced 4-3-3 formation that has got the best out of virtually every player. Those to benefit most are the midfield trio of Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba of Juventus, and Yohan Cabaye, formerly of Newcastle and now of PSG, along with – one of the standout players of the World Cup so far – Karim Benzema.
With three goals in two games, the Real Madrid forward is in the form of his life. He also symbolises the team in another way. Benzema was one of the much-heralded 1987 generation, who won the 2004 Under-17 European Championship. Among them were Nasri and the troublesome Hatem Ben Arfa and Jérémy Ménez.
Benzema is the only one left. He was the only one with the right attitude.
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