France Football vs. Finland: What We Learned About Les Bleus
For the French national soccer team, Euro 2012 was about the performance but also about taking another step toward healing. Healing, of course, refers to the fiasco of World Cup 2010 that resulted in enormous embarrassment for Les Bleus.
With a quarterfinal appearance at Euro 2012 in the bag, the French now look toward qualifying for World Cup 2014. The task won't be easy, though, as France will need to finish in the top two of a group likely to be won by Spain.
As a starting point for their campaign, France defeated Finland 1-0 on a goal by Abou Diaby. The result gives them the three points, but it didn't necessarily reassure fans for the rest of qualifying.
Here is what we learned.
1. Ribery and Benzema Are the Creative Centers
On a team littered with offensive potential, there are certain players that must come forth and establish themselves as leaders. Against Finland, it was clear that Didier Deschamps will continue to use Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery as the creative controllers of the offense.
Benzema created several chances for himself and had a superb through ball to Diaby for the goal. Ribery was a nightmare for Finland on the left flank and repeatedly found space despite being surrounded by defenders every time he touched the ball.
France was only able to score one goal, but that was due mainly to the fact that Finland had 11 men back at all times. Ribery and Benzema were both excellent with the ball at their feet, and the offense clearly flows through them for France.
2. Defensive Line Solution Unfound
At Euro 2012, France's main concern was the strength of their central defense. Philippe Mexes was unable to return to form and gel with Adil Rami, which caused enormous issues for France defensively. Unfortunately, the problem isn't solved just yet.
Against Finland, Deschamps aligned Mamadou Sakho and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in central defense. Both players performed well on an individual basis, but overall the holes remained in the French back line.
Finland found space far too often and was more effective on counterattacks than they should have been. Creating chemistry takes time, but France can't afford to be this weak in the back for long.
3. Hugo Lloris Is One of the Best Keepers in the World
This wasn't so much learned as confirmed. Hugo Lloris has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world for a while now, and his time at Tottenham will only elevate his exposure.
Lloris is capable of making a wide variety of key saves, but more importantly, he seems to always step up for his national side. Playing to the magnitude of the event is the mark of a champion, and Lloris showed once more he can do just that.
He made several crucial and difficult saves to preserve the win for his side. As long as Lloris is in goal, France will have an elite last defensive option.
4. They Need M'vila Back
Yann M'Vila has yet to return to the national team since the French press crucified him for his poor behavior at Euro 2012, but Didier Deschamps is going to need him soon.
M'Vila was unhappy to be substituted out and let it be known by refusing to acknowledge coach Laurent Blanc. Before that, though, he had really made his mark for the national team.
M'Vila is a fantastic defender who can stop opposing attacks dead, and then uses his superb passing to launch the offense back forward.
Against Finland, Rio Mavuba was unable to do that. France struggled to quickly push on counterattacks and ended up facing 11 defenders almost every time they had the ball.
M'Vila will bring more movement back to the team, and Deschamps needs to consider forgiving the Rennes midfielder.
5. Deschamps Going to Use Ligue 1
Didier Deschamps was the captain of the France squad that won World Cup 1998, so he knows what it takes to be victorious. At the time, France used Ligue 1 to form their players to combine with their stars playing abroad.
The huge success of the team led to many young French players going abroad for a while. Laurent Blanc had started to go back to the days of using Ligue 1 to bring up their young stars, and it seems Didier Deschamps is going to continue that legacy.
Of the 28 players Deschamps has called up in his first two games, 18 play in Ligue 1. He also has given significant playing time to players such as Etienne Capoue, who hadn't seen the field much up until this point.
He hopes this tactic will build success in the long run as well as the short.