An ugly and disappointing draw away to Belarus may provide an important point but should also act as a prompt to les Bleus not to forget a damaging era that is not so bygone
By Robin Bairner
If the recent ‘quota scandal’ reminded followers of French football that the days of Raymond Domenech’s reign could not be instantly forgotten off the field, the manner in which France laboured to a 1-1 draw against Belarus on Friday evening was a stark reminder there are still problems to address on it.
This was a match in which les Bleus were lacking ambition, leadership and dynamism – all attributes that could be readily associated with the tail end of Domenech’s infamous tenure.
In the opening 20 minutes, it seemed that even a point would be something of a bonus given the way the home team successfully harried their guests out of any kind of rhythm. When Eric Abidal put through his own net following a needlessly conceded free kick from Adil Rami, it seemed defeat was very much on the cards as France had barely flustered the home rearguard.
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For five minutes les Bleus bristled, but thereafter they would be wholly ineffective, not forcing Sergei Veremko in the home goal into any kind of meaningful action for the remainder of a scrappy and wholly disappointing match.
Though the bluster had been sucked from the home side, the attacking threat in the French team was scarcely obvious. Franck Ribery was well marshalled on the left, Malouda was hesitant on the right and Samir Nasri inevitably picked the wrong pass through the middle.
Benzema, meanwhile, spent the first hour dropping deep, taking up valuable space in packed areas. When he did finally find himself in scoring positions, his finishing was persistently tame.
Perhaps the fact that Bosnia – France’s most notable rivals to claim qualification – had lost earlier in the evening to Romania allowed Blanc to think a draw was a sound result in the circumstances, meaning his side to maintain a three point advantage at the summit of the group, but this was an inept showing that would have been castigated under Domenech.
Thankfully, the current incumbent of the Stade de France’s home dugout has already proven to have more savvy than his predecessor, but Friday’s game was a check to les Bleus’ forward stride, reminding them that the dark days of South Africa are not so long ago.