World Cup: France emerges as title threat
Youth a big key
Didier Deschamps utilizes options effectively.
While fans and experts alike debated whether Argentina’s "Golden generation," Germany’s myriad of midfield mastery or Brazil’s home advantage would secure either a World Cup crown pre-tournament, France went about their business under the radar, and look as capable as any of emerging as champions of the world on July 13.
It's also open to question as to what approach is best in the quest for glory – rotate your squad and give everyone a chance, or keep a core 11, and hope they form an understanding.
France coach Didier Deschamps has chosen the latter, making six changes for Les Bleus final group clash with Ecuador, and despite a rather low-key showing, France progresses to the knockout stage with seven points, and an unbeaten record.
Not bad for a team supposedly too inexperienced to succeed in Brazil.
Power of youth
With an average age of just over 27, Deschamps has assembled a group full of youthful exuberance, and plenty of quality to match.
A prime example of the talent at Deschamps disposal was the substitutes he was able to field in the Maracana.
Despite only being 21, Raphael Varane, who replaced Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho in the second-half, not only commands a starting berth at the heart of Real Madrid’s defence, but played a pivotal role in Los Blancos’ Champions League success.
Also, the two attacking replacements in Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy netted 30 English Premier League goals between them last season, and were brought on alongside Madrid’s regular in the striker position, Karim Benzema, for the final third of the match.
On another night, the result could, and should have been different against 10-man Ecuador, as guilt-edged chances were missed by the likes of Giroud, who failed to take advantage of the opportunity of staking a claim for a starting berth in the round of 16.
However, wastefulness in front of goal will not be a worry to Deschamps, after watching his side notch eight in the previous two, and with the in-form Mathieu Valbuena to make his return, Nigeria will certainly be fearful heading into their knockout clash in Brasilia next week.
“We will adapt, and keep our rhythm. There is a certain spirit in this group,” was the message Deschamps wanted to convey post-match, and with the high morale of the camp, Les Bleus have every chance of maintaining their momentum.
This result aside, Deschamps will be very pleased to see Les Bleus through as group leaders, and with other high-profile early exits and more Luis Suarez discrepancies grabbing the headlines, he will be pleased to continue away from the limelight.
Pete Hall is U.K.-based soccer columnist, covering the World Cup in Brazil.