France easily dispatched the Netherlands 2-0 Wednesday night in the Stade de France.
Although these countries are traditionally two of the favorites heading into a major international competition, both have plenty of question marks heading into Brazil.
For France, the ghosts of 2010 still haunt some in the media. The World Cup was an utter debacle, and the 2012 European Championship was only a slight upgrade. Didier Deschamps has moved the team forward, but it won't take much for everything to come unraveled again.
The Netherlands are in arguably much worse shape. Louis van Gaal has tried undoing all of the problems caused by the car crash that was Euro 2012. The Dutch, though, haven't demonstrated the kind of positive, attacking football that has come to be synonymous with a Van Gaal-coached team, and the back four is an even bigger concern than it was in both 2010 and 2012.
With this being a friendly, both managers opted for some changes. The biggest two for Deschamps were starting Antoine Griezmann on the left wing ahead of Franck Ribery and opting for a centre-back duo of Raphael Varane and Eliaquim Mangala, which is his ninth CB pairing since taking over in 2012, per @OptaJean:
9 - Mangala-Varane will be the 9th pair of central defenders to start for France under Didier Deschamps. Rotation.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Van Gaal handed Quincy Promes and Jean-Paul Boetius their first international caps, with Promes on the right wing and Boetius on the left.
It's a decision that Van Gaal might regret after the fact, as their inexperience was often exploited by the French attack. Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy were both bombing forward from the back, as neither Promes nor Boetius were doing a good job of tracking their runs.
Daley Blind also struggled at left-back, often leaving acres of space for Debuchy on the right flank.
The fact that both goals came from the right half is no coincidence.
For the first, Blaise Matuidi found Karim Benzema with a nice lofted ball over the top. Benzema let the ball bounce before hitting a beautiful right-footed volley into the far post past Jasper Cillessen.
While it was no doubt a piece of individual brilliance from the Real Madrid striker, it undoubtedly illustrated why the Dutch defense is such a major concern. As you can see in the Vine below by DeMarke, both Blind and Bruno Martins Indi are caught horribly out of position, leaving Benzema with a ton of space to decide what to do with the pass.
When Benzema scores, it's a good sign for the national team.
16 - France have won all 16 of the games in which Karim Benzema has scored. Talisman.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
The 26-year-old is on a great run of form, a departure from where he was months ago. Before the match, he credited both Deschamps and Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti in helping him improve in 2014, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:
I am in a good moment, in good form and you can see that on the pitch. A player goes through difficult moments and others that are better.
When it was difficult I worked hard, and I keep doing that. With work and with the confidence of my coaches I have overcome that. Ancelotti has not transformed my play, but for a forward it is good to give him confidence when you have periods when you do not score, in those you do not play well, or when you are whistled. The same with Deschamps, the same with Zidane, with whom we work a lot in the training sessions.
France's second goal was even better than the first. Mathieu Valbuena delivered a cross into the box from the right flank. The pass looked destined for an on-rushing Griezmann, but Matuidi stopped his run, reached his right foot back and connected with what turned into one of the more unconventional scissor kicks you're going to see.
Again, though, you couldn't help but notice how Valbuena was left completely unmarked down the right. Blind was left chasing a shadow.
The second half was much less eventful, as France sat back to protect their lead. The Dutch were toothless in the attack, getting only one shot on goal, according to WhoScored.com, and they look like the side with much more to do before touching down in Brazil.
The defensive deficiencies shone through, as did the fact that the attack isn't creating a lot of goals from open play. As @OptaJohan points out, the Netherlands have scored two goals in their last three matches:
2 - The Netherlands have only scored two goals over their last three matches, their worst run since Euro 2012. Drought.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) March 5, 2014
French football journalist Julien Laurens did like what he saw from Jordy Clasie in midfield, but the emerging star had little help to speak of:
I was impressed by Jordy Clasie tonight, especially in the first half, for the Netherlands. Looks a very promising talent.— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) March 5, 2014
Key Player Grades
Mathieu Debuchy, France: A-
Debuchy was a terror down the right flank. He was helped by Jean-Paul Boetius not offering much of a threat down the left. Debuchy made sure not to get caught out, though, biting off more than he could chew.
Didier Deschamps has a tough decision to make at right-back between Debuchy and Bacary Sagna. The Newcastle star made a strong case Wednesday night.
Blaise Matuidi, France: A
Blaise Matuidi has built a reputation as more of a disruptor than distributor. He's somebody breaking up the attack rather than facilitating it. However, in this match he was a little bit of both.
Both Kevin Strootman and Wesley Sneijder were nonfactors in the match, due in some part to Matuidi taking them out of the game. On the offensive end, he helped set up France's first goal and finished off their second.
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder had a great game all around.
Daley Blind, Netherlands: D+
You saw the worst of Daley Blind Wednesday. He's great going forward, but far too often he's caught out of position and leaves the defense exposed. Blind has been playing a lot in central midfield at Ajax, and it's arguably his best position.
The fact that Louis van Gaal started him at left-back is more of an indictment about how bad the situation is there rather than an endorsement of Blind going forward.
|Patrice Evra (off '46)||B-|
|Mathieu Debuchy (off '87)||A-|
|Paul Pogba (off '81)||C+|
|Antoine Griezmann (off '68)||C+|
|Karim Benzema (off '81)||B|
|Mathieu Valbuena (off '63)||B+|
Lineup via WhoScored.com
|Daley Blind (off '52)||D+|
|Bruno Martins Indi||C-|
|Gregory van der Wiel||C-|
|Kevin Strootman (off '39)||C|
|Jean-Paul Boetius (off '72)||C-|
|Wesley Sneijder (off '72)||C|
|Robin van Persie||C-|
Lineup via WhoScored.com
The next scheduled friendlies for both teams aren't until May. The Dutch take on Ecuador on May 17, while the French play Norway on the May 27.
Although this is only a friendly, France have every right to be encouraged by this result. They played as a unit and were always threatening down the flanks. For the Dutch, this match was a massive disappointment, and they have plenty of work to do to get into better form.