France Just Dismal

17 06 2010

The first thing to say here is that Mexico were excellent. Bright, busy and with bagfuls of talent they are an exciting side and thoroughly deserve to qualify from this group. And yet, there is no doubt the story tonight is the demise of the 2006 finalists France. They were horrible. So much talent, so many big names, but France just never looked right in this World Cup. In truth, they haven’t looked right for the best part of four years. No team spirit, players not working for themselves or each other, rumours of dissention in the ranks seemingly proven true by events on the pitch.

It is hard to expand on the tactical problems of the French team when frankly it is a side issue given the lack of unity quite rightly highlighted as the key issue by Clarence Seedorf and Roy Hodgson on the BBC. Moreover, whilst Domenech’s selection has been queried, there was nothing too outlandish in the much-maligned coach’s team selection. Top-rated keeper. Arsenal right-back and centre-back, Man Utd left-back and Barcelona’s Eric Abidal. Two holding midfielders. Malouda, Ribery and Govou in behind Nic Anelka, a man accustomed to playing the lone role up front. Of course, it isn’t ideal – Ribery is happier playing from the left. Govou has been struggling. Anelka now seems to insist on going walkabout for no apparent reason and Eric Abidal is more comfortable at full-back than in the middle. Even so, if ever there was a case of a team being less than the sum of their parts then this was it.

One thing that can be said is that the goal was coming. Rafael Marquez is not the player he was, having lost a yard of pace since his pomp, but if you give him a plethora of willing runners and time and space to pick a pass then you’re asking for trouble:

Carlos Vela's skied chance in the 8th minute. Marquez, noted by the red mark, has just played a delicate ball over the top.

In the above image, William Gallas has been sucked in and is caught out on the turn while Bacary Sagna & Eric Abidal are far too slow to see the danger and thus compound the problem, effectively leaving three men racing onto Marquez’s throughball. Toulalan & Diaby, the French midfielders (marked in blue), are out of the game – neither tracking runners nor closing down Marquez in possession.

France were not punished on that occasion but Javier Hernandez put them out of their misery in the second half:

The players marked blue indicate the static French side while the arrows indicate the runs of Giovani and Hernandez. Marquez is, again, the player on the ball, marked by red.

For the first Mexican goal, Marquez was again able to loft a ball over the top to willing runners, this time as the static French defence attempted to hold a high line. Once again, the enthusiastic running of the Mexicans was in stark contrast to the lethargic closing down of the French side.


France look set to go home and quite rightly so given their performances thus far. No spirit. No organisation. And now, no hope.


A Tale of Two Coaches: Raymond & Diego Watch

14 06 2010

So that’s their first games underway – Raymond and Diego are up and running.

These are the two coaches that are supposed to provide the entertainment this tournament – wild maniacs who are liable to emotional breakdowns and erratic decisions – and admittedly Diego certainly caught the eye on the touchline. However, 180 minutes in and their sides have conceded only a handful of chances let alone a goal. Proof perhaps that their team selections are not the work of a pair of unhinged individuals?

Well of course they’re not. Raymond Domenech took France all the way to the World Cup Final last time around and after spending much of the warm-up games flirting with an ambitious 4-3-3 with Malouda and Gourcuff in midfield he reverted to a more conservative 4-2-3-1 for the game against Uruguay. This was most likely the formation he had in his mind for much of the build-up – Diarra would have played in Diaby’s place but for injury – and it certainly made sense to go with it up against Uruguay. 3-5-2 vs 4-2-3-1. Not that you would have known it by the reaction of the BBC pundits and, if the rumours of dissention in the ranks are true, his own players. In truth, getting Govou and Ribery at the wing-backs meant Uruguay were forced into virtually playing with five at the back, restricted to relying on Forland and Suarez to conjure something from nothing.  The back four looked comfortable and Toulalan & Diaby gave the front four a decent platform to play from. Sadly for Domenech, Gourcuff, Govou, Anelka and even Ribery were just very poor on the night.

Maradona’s sprang a slight surprise with his team selection opting for Jonas Gutierrez at right-back and asking Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to share duties covering back on the right-wing. It was an attacking line-up and was only a qualified success – Gutierrez was caught out a couple of times early on – but Argentina eventually came through by an unflattering 1-0 margin. Messi and Veron controlling the game with ease for long spells.

Perhaps the key difference between the two at this early stage appears to be the way they have or, in Domenech’s case at least, have not been able to foster a team spirit. For all the talk of Maradona’s crazy behaviour he appears to have the full support of his squad, who seem to adore him. He is quoted as saying he would die for the players and has fostered strong bonds with them. Perhaps it was this that the experienced Zanetti and Cambiasso were unable to buy into? Domenech on the other hand appears more than ever to be at the mercy of his players with disharmony reigning supreme. In summary, there is a case for saying Domenech got his formation tactically right and Maradona’s selection left his side vulnerable… but spirit is every bit as important as tactics and it is this that means the French are the ones to worry about at this stage.