By Mohammed Ali | French Football Expert
One-hundred-and-fifteen days. The time that has passed since France trudged off the pitch at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk in complete mediocrity and, in Samir Nasri's case, a foul-mouthed tirade.
Les Bleus' quest for another continental title had ended meekly, as Spain marched on to continue their footballing stranglehold on the European Championship.
To make up for their Donetsk disaster, the French - now under Euro-winning captain Didier Deschamps - travel to the Vicente Calderon in Madrid to face the world champions, still without an answer as to how to topple Vicente del Bosque's all-conquering side, having slipped to a humiliating 1-0 defeat to Japan on Friday evening.
With both sides maintaining 100 per cent records in World Cup qualifying, Deschamps' men can re-invigorate their campaign with a positive result in the Spanish capital. And given that there are only five teams in Group I, Tuesday's clash is all the more important.
Goal.com picks out five key areas that Les Bleus must succeed in if they are to prevent Spain from winning a 25th straight qualifier...
|BENZEMA MUST END GOAL DROUGHT
For a world-renowned striker to score 15 goals in more than a half-century of appearances for his country is somewhat disappointing. Indeed, Karim Benzema, so used to finding the net at Real Madrid, has failed spectacularly over the past year.
Many tipped the former Olympique Lyonnais ace to top the goalscoring charts at Euro 2012 but, instead, the 24-year-old left Eastern Europe with nothing to his name. Indeed, aside from a double against Estonia in a friendly just before the tournament, he has only scored one competitive goal for France (against Albania in Euro 2012 qualifying) since 2010.
Benzema's insistence on setting up other players (he assisted two goals at the Euros), rather than to take his own chances has won him few admirers at national level. Against Spain in June, he looked noticeably lethargic and uninterested, as France crashed out at the quarter-final stage.
If there was a time to re-announce himself on the international stage, now would be it. For the striker who managed 32 goals for the Spanish champions last year, breaking his goal drought against friend and team-mate Iker Casillas would be a welcome reprieve and boost Benzema's position in the national set-up.
|INEXPERIENCED MIDFIELD MUST COME OF AGE
Deschamps has been dealt a blow with numerous midfielders ruled out for one reason or another ahead of Tuesday's crunch clash. With the likes of Lassana Diarra and Abou Diaby injured and Yann M'Vila, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa cast out for disciplinary issues, you would be forgiven for thinking that the middle of the park looks remarkably light.
Indeed, the most experienced of the seven players called up in that position is Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye with just 18 caps. Similarly, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso individually have more caps under their belt than the French midfield put together.
Nevertheless, against Japan, the likes of Etienne Capoue, Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi appeared comfortable and efficient in their roles, raising the possibility of future selection headaches for the Bleus boss.
However, against the world champions, who arguably possess the strongest players in that position on the planet, Cabaye and co. will have to grow up very quickly to ensure a positive result and instill a sense of authority over their more esteemed opponents. No pressure then.
|KOSCIELNY & SAKHO MUST CUT OUT MISTAKES
The worst was feared as Laurent Koscielny limped out of training at Clairefontaine last Wednesday, but the 27-year-old recovered to feature against the Asian champions on Friday. With Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa suspended and Adil Rami uncertain to start, it leaves Paris Saint-Germain's Mamadou Sakho as the only other recognised centre-back.
The pair, which have only started one game together, will be thrown into the deep end at the Vicente Calderon. Koscielny maintained to L'Equipe on Sunday that his relationship with the 22-year-old is blossoming, though their performance at the Stade de France left a little to be desired.
Facing a counterattack in the last minute, Sakho was easily undone by Shinji Kagawa's blistering surge up the pitch before Koscielny was unable to clear Yuto Nagatomo's return pass for the match-winner. The club form of both players has also been shaky recently, with Koscienly committing a couple of costly mistakes for Arsenal in the home defeat to Chelsea.
With Philippe Mexes gradually being eased out and Rami falling down the pecking order, it is conceivable that the Arsenal man, along with Yanga-Mbiwa or Sakho (and to a lesser extent Raphael Varane), will be moulded into a first-choice partnership ahead of World Cup 2014 and beyond. That road must start on Tuesday evening with a flawless performance.
|LLORIS MUST SHOW HE'S AS GOOD AS CASILLAS & BUFFON
It has been quite an uncertain few months for Hugo Lloris. Prior to the summer, his stock was continually rising at Lyon and, after being confirmed as France captain by predecessor Laurent Blanc, the 25-year-old could seemingly do no wrong.
Since then, it hasn't been all that rosy. After the failure of Poland and Ukraine, Lloris returned to his club under a wave of speculation. And despite a move to Tottenham, he would face stiff competition from 41-year-old Brad Friedel, who still churns out the sort of form which belies his age.
With Andre Villas-Boas unable to pick between the Frenchman and the ageing, but still brilliant Friedel, Lloris also had to contend with the rising form of Olympique de Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who was rumoured to be taking over the No.1 jersey should the American continue to reign supreme at White Hart Lane.
The rumours proved unfounded as he returned against Japan, although his performance was all too jittery. He spilled a speculative shot and would remain uncertain throughout the 90 minutes, showing some concern ahead of the clash against the world champions.
Given the consummate professional he is, Lloris will have understood that he needs to improve, especially in the big games, if he is to be uttered in the same breath as the likes of Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer. Should he keep a clean sheet against the free-scoring Spaniards, it would do the world of good for himself, the national team, and Spurs.
|RIBERY MUST REPLICATE BAYERN FORM
Franck Ribery has often been lambasted in the French press for not transporting his stunning Bayern Munich form to the national team.
The winger has, at times, appeared static and uncreative in France colours, a far cry from his exploits in Germany. Nevertheless, he seems to have re-discovered his scoring form, grabbing four goals on the international scene in 2012, which culminated in September's 3-1 victory over Belarus.
Over six years on from his France debut, Ribery can finally elevate his status among his countrymen with a positive display in Madrid. The pace, dribbling and attacking trickery he is often associated with is enough to overrun the likes of Alvaro Arbeloa on the field of play in Madrid.
With Ribery now the mainstay and senior member of the squad, it is up to him to produce the type of performance that Thierry Henry or Zinedine Zidane would against big-name opposition. It is worth noting that he also notched his first international goal against Spain in the famous 2006 World Cup quarter final win. A nation expects.
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