So the 2014 World Cup continues to conjure some scintillating matches, with France and Switzerland involved Friday in a goal-laden encounter at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. The 5-2 victory for the French had seven different goalscorers, and even allowed for Karim Benzema’s missed penalty and then his strike that flew into the net milliseconds after the final whistle.
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The win moved the 1998 world champions clear at the top of Group E, with six points from two matches. Here we look at three pointers from their Switzerland triumph.
Didier Deschamps displays his Midas touch
All throughout his playing career, the combative midfielder was very much his own man. It is a trait Deschamps has continued to possess since moving into management, exemplified in his current guise as France manager. Last month, he raised eyebrows by deciding to omit Samir Nasri from his squad. Nasri, remember, had just helped Manchester City regain the English Premier League title, while there were question marks about Franck Ribery’s fitness and the French side’s creative capabilities.
But Nasri has not been missed, with his compatriots scoring eight goals in two matches in Brazil. In the opening 3-0 victory against Honduras, Yohan Cabaye was the architect, assisting two goals and dictating the match from his relatively unfamiliar position as deep-lying playmaker. The Paris Saint-Germain star usually operates further forward, but has adapted adroitly to a new role. Deschamps placed a substantial amount of faith in Cabaye; the No 4 has quickly repaid his coach.
Then on Friday, Deschamps chose to relegate to the bench Paul Pogba, the team’s most gifted player, and instead employ a slightly varied 4-4-2 formation, with Benzema often dropping out wide left. Moussa Sissoko came in to partner Cabaye, and Olivier Giroud used more central than Benzema in attack. The result? France swept aside the Swiss, with Giroud providing a goal and an assist, while Sissoko got on the score sheet, too. And when Deschamps did introduce Pogba, the Juventus midfielder supplied a sumptuous pass to set up Benzema for the fourth. Deschamps, a pragmatist who emphasises team ethic, is proving to be a standalone at the finals.
Emergent Swiss taught harsh lesson, but they will learn from it
Obliterated within 73 minutes at the Arena Fonte Nova, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s inexperienced side at least salvaged something from their Salvador horror show. Their two late goals were scored when France had already sewn up the points, but they showed a significant amount of spirit.
Make no mistake, recovering from this humbling will take some time. Switzerland were naïve and negligent, particularly in a defence whose failings were personified by the perennially bemusing Philippe Senderos.
However, this Swiss team have undeniable talent, including several of the squad that won the 2009 U-17 World Cup. Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Gokhan Inler offer real attacking thrust, while Fabian Schar is a defender reportedly attracting interest from a clutch of leading European clubs. This is the first major tournament for the majority of the side, and so whatever they experience in Brazil they will undoubtedly be better for it.
Hitzfeld must take a large portion of the blame for Switzerland’s capitulation; an incredibly knowledgable coach, he should have done better to plug the gaps that appeared all through his team.
Yet give the German, who retires following the finals, credit for what he has achieved in six years in charge of his adopted country. Completely remodelled since the last World Cup, for Switzerland the future does seem bright. It’s just Friday’s thrashing dimmed the glow a little.
Too early to proclaim France champions-elect
Granted, the French put in arguably the tournament’s finest attacking performance thus far, and their form will have the rest of the competition taking note. This was a quietly fancied Switzerland side, after all. Admittedly, in Pogba France have a midfielder almost every other country would wish was theirs. And yes, with nine goals in his past eight internationals, Karim Benzema, too, is finally fulfilling his potential in a Les Bleus shirt.
However, the expectation needs tempering. It was anticipated that France would defeat Honduras and Switzerland – albeit, the latter not so handsomely – and with Ecuador to come on Wednesday, they should top Group E with maximum points. The pool was nowhere near the tournament’s most testing, though. And stiffer examinations will certainly come, with Germany likely quarter-final opponents.
This French vintage is blatantly gifted, and should in future again challenge in the latter stages for major trophies. Yet the last team they defeated who sat inside the top 10 of Fifa’s world rankings was the Netherlands in March. The Swiss rollover was at times exhilarating, but wait another few matches before anointing Deschamps’s deputies successors to the side he captained to football’s apex 16 years ago.
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