France’s 6-0 friendly win over Australia at the Parc des Princes on Friday was a massive boost for Didier Deschamps heading into Les Bleus’ final FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifier against Finland on Tuesday.
One of the biggest positives was the performance of Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, who made his first start for the national team in over 12 months against the Socceroos.
The 26-year-old has made three substitute appearances since Deschamps took over from Laurent Blanc in the wake of the 2012 European Championship. The signs are that the former Arsenal man could now become a key player heading towards a possible appearance in Brazil next year.
So how has Nasri gone from zero to hero in the space of 12 months?
Firstly, his Manchester City form has been steadily improving since he managed to arrest an alarming slide in the wake of the Euro 2012 controversy. As reported by TF1 (h/t ESPN FC), Nasri was banned from three international matches after arguing with journalists at Euro 2012.
Following a strong finish to last season despite his struggles under Roberto Mancini, the arrival of new coach Manuel Pellegrini has reinvigorated the Frenchman.
The Chilean even told The Telegraph recently how impressed he has been by a resurgent Nasri, particularly following his key role in the 4-1 demolition of biter rivals Manchester United. So far this season he has two goals and two assists in seven appearances to his name (stats via premierleague.com), and he appears well placed to add to that over the course of the campaign.
Following Friday’s win over Australia, Nasri’s impressive early-season form is also translating onto the international stage with France now.
The former Olympique de Marseille man looked hungry, motivated and full of purpose in the French capital. Despite it only being a friendly, his impressive showing, which included providing an assist for Olivier Giroud’s second goal, looks like it will ensure that he starts Tuesday’s clash with Finland.
Deschamps has looked undecided on his strongest XI for Les Bleus since he took the job, but Nasri’s impressive form will make it difficult to drop him heading into the World Cup qualification playoffs.
Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery have so far been the creative hubs in team. However, Ribery has not been the same player that we see at club level for FC Bayern Munchen until recently, and Valbuena struggles to impose himself on a regular basis because of his build.
Added to Karim Benzema’s struggle for goals, France were looking toothless prior to the qualifiers against Georgia and Belarus in September. Nasri is a player who since the end of last season has been in good form, and a goal in Gomel and an assist in his first start since returning to the side is a positive start towards rebuilding some burnt bridges.
The enforced break from international duty has done Nasri good in many ways. It has taught the midfielder the value of international football, and it has built up an insatiable hunger that is now being exhibited when you see the Manchester City man play.
Initially called up for France’s tour of South America in the summer (h/t ESPN FC), Nasri was unable to return at that point due to injury. Instead, he finally returned to Les Bleus’ setup for the friendly against Belgium in August (h/t ESPN FC).
From his first few appearances since being welcomed back into the fold, Nasri has matured a little and convinced Deschamps of his desire to play for his country once again. With his Euro 2012 controversy now behind him and France once again behind the controversial star, the World Cup playoffs is the ideal time for Nasri to demonstrate just how important he has become to Deschamps’ plans.
After all, he has more experience than many in the current side with 39 caps and five goals to his name.
It was Nasri whose penalty equaliser against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Stade de France sent the French to Euro 2012 two years ago. This year’s doubleheader, whoever it is against, will be a tricky task for Deschamps’ side. Nasri will need to call on his past experiences in order to help the French qualify.
Assuming he continues to impress at club level for Manchester City, then he will almost certainly keep being given chances on the international scene. The trick for Deschamps is now to keep Nasri hungry, motivated and clear headed ahead of the playoffs and the World Cup itself next year if France can get there.
It is clear though that in order to do so, Nasri will play a key part.