After a strong start to the competition, Didier Deschamps' swashbuckling side should not be overlooked as potential winners with a favourable last-16 draw
By Robin Bairner in Fortaleza
When France hammered Jamaica 8-0 prior to the World Cup finals, it was a result that many disregarded as being caused by the Caribbean islanders' ineptitude as much as the attacking flair of Les Bleus.
Events in Brazil, however, have shown that such an emphatic success was no fluke, with Didier Deschamps' men establishing themselves as one of the teams to beat. Honduras were eased off 3-0 in their opening game before Switzerland were brilliantly dispatched 5-2 amid a flurry of thrilling attacking football led by Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema.
It is a far cry from the shambles that Raymond Domenech left behind in South Africa four years ago, when limp displays saw France earn only one point. That episode remains etched in the minds of the team's psyche, despite only four members of the squad being retained for Brazil, but the scar tissue is finally being worked away by Deschamps' enthralling side.
The former Marseille and Juventus boss has finally tapped into the potential of Benzema as a genuine threat at international level. Having endured fallow periods unacceptable for a player of his talent, the Real Madrid striker has nine goals to his credit in as many games, establishing himself as a potential winner of not only the Golden Boot but also potentially the Golden Ball.
"I am in my head 100 per cent, but I can do better," Benzema said after the Switzerland match – an intimidating warning to France’s future opponents.
In conjunction with Giroud in attack, Benzema has been in formidable form, given the freedom to float just behind the Arsenal striker, predominantly from the left of the field. Not only has the Madrid forward been scoring goals, he has been setting them up, too, with two assists against the Swiss, having been the catalyst for the own goal the Hondurans conceded.
“Oliver [Giroud] and I have confidence that whenever we play together we will have an understanding,” Benzema continued. “After that, it's not Karim or Olivier, it's everyone who pulls the team up.”
As the 26-year-old indicated, one player cannot alone be responsible for such emphatic results. Behind the dangerous front three, which also includes the impish brilliance of Mathieu Valbuena, has been a midfield incessant in its pressing and effervescent with energy. Yohan Cabaye has orchestrated matters nicely at its base, while Blaise Matuidi's apparently boundless running has justified why the French press believe him to be the man with three lungs.
And during the Switzerland game, Paul Pogba, who has the potential to be France's jewel in this area, was not even fully utilised, having to make do with a place on the bench. Reportedly, Deschamps was unhappy with the manner the young Juventus star lashed out at Wilson Palacios in the opening game and hence chose Moussa Sissoko instead, though the Newcastle man offered a solid replacement and even grabbed his first international goal.
Perhaps most encouraging for Deschamps, however, is the attitude of the squad. Giroud, who had been unexpectedly benched in the opening game, responded with a powerful offensive display, while Pogba, far from having a teenage tantrum, made a superb cameo as a substitute, setting up Benzema with a particularly extravagant pass.
The team spirit that previously acted as an insurmountable barrier for Les Bleus now appears an aid.
It is important, however, to consider that World Cups are not won in the first days of the competition. Defensively, France have questions to answer against genuinely high-class opposition, but the delightful balance in their midfield combined with their flair in attack demands they fear no one.
Deschamps is liable to use the match against Ecuador as an opportunity to allow some of his fringe players the chance to impress, with the group effectively sewn up already and a last-16 berth well and truly secured.
France as a world force are back.
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