By Robin Bairner
Wednesday’s 1-0 international friendly defeat at the hands of Uruguay was a disappointment for France, though there were certainly plenty of positives for head coach Didier Deschamps to draw from the trip to Montevideo.
The difference between the two sides was clear, however. While the visitors suffered constant frustration at the hands of Fernando Muslera in the home goal, Uruguay were clinical with their attacking movements and took their chance early in the second period when Luis Suarez brilliantly capitalised on a piece of naive defending from debutant Eliaquim Mangala to strike.
Deschamps may have seen it coming but would have been unable to do a great deal about it, for France presently lack a world-class striker.
Olivier Giroud was the man chosen to lead the line in Montevideo due to an injury to Karim Benzema, who could return for Sunday’s match against Brazil. Between them, however, they have only 18 goals in 85 international appearances.
Benzema’s career, it would seem, is drifting towards one of great unfulfilled potential, particularly internationally. He has gone over a year since last finding the net, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Estonia, which equates to a worrying 12 fixtures, and in his last 24 outings for his nation he has only three tallies.
Nevertheless, the Real Madrid man is still comfortably the most prolific threat in Deschamps’ armoury. From the entire squad, there are only 34 international goals.
France might have won World Cup 1998 without a recognised No.9 – Stephane Guivarc'h is comfortably the most forgettable of the great XI that swept aside Brazil 3-0 in the final – but this current crop does not have the outstanding talent in every other position that Aime Jacquet’s squad had 15 years ago.
Since Thierry Henry stepped out of the international spotlight in 2010, this has been a headache for a nation that has a tradition of cultivating brilliant forwards. David Trezeguet, Jean-Pierre Papin, Eric Cantona and Michel Platini have all been prolific forces over the last 30 years and before them there were the likes of Raymond Kopa, Just Fontaine and Dominique Rochteau.
Looking through the youth ranks, there is little hope of digging out the next prolific scorer for several years. AC Milan's M'Baye Niang is perhaps the great hope at present, though he has tended to be more effective in the wide areas and his finishing has been pinpointed as a particular weakness since moving to San Siro.
Arsenal-bound Yaya Sanogo is another prospect, yet his career has already been riddled with injuries that have prevented the 20-year-old finding his true potential.
France may have the basis of a strong squad, yet if they hope to return to Brazil in a year’s time and seriously challenge for top honours, they will need to find their own Neymar or Hulk, otherwise they could once again be consigned to the role of also rans.
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