After another sobering evening for les Bleus, Goal.com’s Robin Bairner takes another look at France’s latest disaster under Domenech...
This was Raymond Domenech’s last hurrah at the Stade de France. There were certainly few cheers of delight from the home side as they watched les Bleus, who were actually decked out in blanc, either scurrying hopelessly after the ball as the Spaniards, who were rather ironically wearing bleu for the evening, control play with impressive effortlessness. When France did win possession, they were invariably impotent, with Iker Casillas utterly untroubled throughout. Such a concoction was a recipe for a 2-0 defeat, with David Villa and Sergio Ramos the Spanish scorers.
With less than 100 days remaining before France kick their World Cup campaign off against Uruguay, it’s clear that such a loss leaves France outside the set of elite favourites for the competition, but what can the coaching staff and the team draw from Wednesday’s comprehensive defeat?
In the immediate aftermath of the fixture, Domenech, whose name was booed prior to kick-off when it was read out on the stadium’s PA system, was evasive when it came to the subject of discussing his own side.
“We have seen that to beat Spain everyone must be in tune and above their level,” he told TF1. “To beat that team [we] must be exceptional. We have not been.”
That France were not “exceptional” was certainly apparent. Friendlies are rarely full-blooded affairs, but for a time the encounter in Paris threatened to become a real cut and thrust encounter. La Furia Roja were able to extract some of the game’s energy by dictating the pace, whilst their hosts were technically not on the same level.
Whilst no one dazzled in an incisive sense in the crucial areas of the park, Spain offered a far more consistent threat than les Bleus. It’s clear that Yoann Gourcuff’s form has dropped dramatically since this time last year, and his performance in Paris was testament to that. The young playmaker choked up simple possession frequently, as if he was desperate to play a killer pass every time he took the ball. The sentiment was nice, but when you spend minutes chasing the ball after it’s lost, such basic errors cannot be constantly afforded.
The Girondins de Bordeaux youngster had a great deal of pressure dumped onto his shoulders. Thierry Henry was hopelessly off colour on the left, while Franck Ribery, the team’s talisman since the retirement of Zinedine Zidane, needs time to find his feet after injury.
At least the Bayern Munich ace is fit to take to the field, though. Part of Domenech’s reticence to discuss his team immediately after the game on Wednesday may be because key players were absent. This was especially true in the heart of the defence, where Julien Escude was partnered by debutant Michael Ciani, neither of whom had games to be proud of.
Tortured by the pace of the Spanish forward line, les Bleus’ defence looked largely uncertain and was brutally exposed when their guests attacked in numbers and at pace, which, due to the relatively low-key nature of the game, they chose not to do as frequently as they might in competitive circumstances.
Patrice Evra was distinctly off-colour in the left back role, failing to track Villa for the opening goal and then deserting his position for the second. In addition, a late slip might have let the sprightly Jesus Navas strike a third that would have compounded les Bleus humiliation.
Spain were always likely to provide a stern test for France, but it seems that the size of the task was perhaps under-estimated. Even allowing for the injury problems in the home camp – there was no William Gallas, Sebastien Squillaci or Karim Benzema – ascending to the level of La Roja in the space of three months will be an arduous, if not impossible task for les Bleus.
While the guests seemed self-assured and almost laid-back in their approach, France seemed too eager to please. Perhaps the demanding Parisian crowd had the French side uptight, or perhaps there remains an acute lack of confidence in themselves, the coach and the tactics. A combination of both factors probably best explains a timid showing.
Nevertheless, there was a distinct lack of unity in the home team. Spain may have been a level above France in a footballing aspect, but there was an intangible aura coming from their squad that suggested there is a tight bond between the players. No matter how much Thierry Henry tells the media that relations in the French camp are good – and they may well be – there is a certain je ne sais quoi missing.
Either way, the over-riding lesson from Wednesday’s class is that France have a great deal of work to do before they're ready to meet the world’s big guns. Les Bleus have previously turned such inclement situations around, but it looks too big a job for the departing Domenech.