World Cup 2014: Flowing goals put France in the mood to go all the way
Partnership between Benzema and Giroud acts as a spearhead for Deschamps’ unified squad
Saturday 21 June 2014
If there is no place for World Cup goals quite like Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova where France put five past Switzerland on Friday, the view of their coach, Didier Deschamps, is that the spirit of attacking football is proving contagious right across Brazil.
France’s 5-2 rout of Switzerland means Les Bleus already have eight goals at this World Cup, which is one shy of their total of nine when they finished runners-up in 2006. It also means that 17 have been scored in three matches alone in Salvador, which prompted Deschamps to say: “I think something is inspiring all the teams, in short it is an open World Cup.”
According to Deschamps, “teams are playing quickly” – or at least the successful ones – and France look well equipped to prosper on the evidence of an evening when they destroyed Switzerland with the kind of rapid transitions that the Netherlands had previously employed when routing Spain at the same venue.
Karim Benzema was at the forefront of their victory. The Swiss defence could not handle the Real Madrid forward’s movement as he scored one goal and set up two more, and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud also shone on his first start in Brazil, heading the opening goal and providing an assist for Mathieu Valbuena.
As the Swiss defender Johan Djourou admitted afterwards: “Olivier keeps the ball well and Benzema finds space. They are good on the counterattack and if you lose the ball you have to watch them.”
It was a performance that prompted L’Equipe to ask the question “Just where can they go?” and Moussa Sissoko, the Newcastle midfielder, believes that the attacking pair can help France to travel far in the tournament.
“Our forwards are playing with confidence,” said Sissoko, who scored his first international goal when netting France’s fifth. “There’s a lot of interplay, passes at the right moment, with Karim setting up Olivier and Olivier setting up Karim, and with those two we can go a long way.”
Benzema spoke positively of the partnership with Giroud – “we have a trust, we play off each other” – and with three goals to his name already in Brazil, he was sounding very much like a man in the mood. “I am feeling happy with myself but I can do even better.”
Indeed he might have had a second goal on the night but he saw a brilliant strike count for naught because the final whistle had already blown.
That recalled an incident in the 1978 World Cup when the Welsh referee Clive Thomas blew to end the match just as Zico was heading what would have been a winning Brazil goal against Sweden.
That decision meant that Brazil finished second in the group and had to face Argentina in the next round but France should avoid that fate because with two straight wins in Group E, they have all but mathematically secured qualification in first place, with a game against Ecuador to come.
The French players even look the part off the pitch – filing through the mixed zone in blue suits while the Swiss ambled past in shorts and T-shirts – and the difference from their appearance four years ago in South Africa is stark. The victory over Switzerland came on the anniversary of that infamous player mutiny, but this time there is only a message of unity coming out of the camp.
“We’re very pleased with the performance and we’ll try to repeat it against Ecuador,” Benzema said. “I enjoyed the match, but when we get awards such as this one, it’s down to the efforts of the team. We played as a team. We had heart to win that game.
“I am in my head, 100 per cent, but I can do even better. I also take the work of my teammates. It’s not me, it’s everyone. Even those who did not start the first game and who have returned for this one.”
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