The World Cup may still be years away, but the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers have already begun. Every team is fighting for a chance to be assured of their place in the World Cup and the competition is fierce.
The French and Belarus squads will face off on Tuesday, and each is desperately looking for a win. Belarus recently fell 1-0 to Georgia, whereas France is coming off of an uninspired 1-0 victory over Finland. Spain lurks in Group I, and Les Bleus can't afford to fall if they want to compete for the group's lone automatic World Cup qualification spot.
Here's a quick look at the match.
Where: Stade de France National Stadium, Paris, France
When: Tuesday, September 11th, 3:00 p.m. ET
Watch on: ESPN3
Will History Repeat Itself?
For some reason, France just hasn't had any luck against Belarus as of late. Didier Deschamps' squad has never beaten Belarus in their two attempts. They fell 1-0 during the opening qualifier of the 2012 European Championship and drew 1-1 in Minsk less than a year later.
What's really concerning for Les Bleus is that the 1-0 loss happened in Paris—where tomorrow's match is being held. The squad has been on a tear lately, but there may still be some lingering concern about their inability to outplay Belarus.
France is the far more talented team, and their recent futility against Belarus is puzzling. We'll see if that trend finally reverses itself Tuesday.
How Will France Play Without Abou Diaby?
According to the Associated Press (Via the Boston Herald), midfielder Abou Diaby is likely to miss the match against Belarus. They recently reported:
Diaby, who scored France’s winner in Friday’s 1-0 win away to Finland, took a knock in that game and felt a reaction in training on Sunday. Deschamps says the Arsenal midfielder is "not moving freely" and that either Blaise Matuidi or Etienne Capoue will likely replace him.
Diaby was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise uninspired victory against Finland last Friday, and he'll be sorely missed against Belarus. His ability to control possessions and push the attack is essential to France's strategy.
France's players are still more talented than their Belarus counterparts, but their attack (which already looked lackluster against Finland) has taken another hit. It will be interesting to watch how Les Bleus respond.
Can the Belarus Defense Hold Up?
As banged up as the French squad is, Belarus may have it even worse.
Coach Georgi Kondratiev will have to somehow work around missing four of his top players. ITV.com reports that midfielders Alexander Hleb, Pavel Nekhaychik, Maksim Bordachev and Yan Tigorev are all expected to be out with injury, which should make things easier for the French attack.
Despite sputtering against Finland, the French squad seems confident in their ability to put pressure on the Belarus defense. Midfielder Rio Mavuba told UEFA.com's Christian Châtelet:
We know how this kind of team plays. We'll do our best to score early to force them to be more adventurous. We expect them to try to keep it tight, but we'll rely on the flair of our attackers to break them down.
Only time will tell if the diminished Belarusian defense can once again repel the French attack.