Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena Show France There Is Life After Franck Ribery

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2014

French soccer Karim Benzema , center,reacts after scoring against Jamaica with Blaise Matuidi, left, and teamates  during the friendly soccer match between France and Jamaica  at the Lille Metropole stadium, in Villeneuve d'Ascq, northern France, Sunday, June 8, 2014. France are preparing for the upcoming FIFA soccer World Cup in Brazil starting on 12 June. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
Associated Press

France finished their FIFA World Cup preparations in the best possible way with a thumping 8-0 win over Jamaica at Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille on Sunday. Having been dealt a seemingly heavy blow with the news that Franck Ribery would not be fit for the tournament on Friday, per ESPN FC, Didier Deschamps’ men went about proving that they could still cause one or two surprises in Brazil.

Two goals apiece from Blaise Matuidi, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann were added to by strikes from Yohan Cabaye and Olivier Giroud on a night where the fear caused by Ribery’s confirmed absence earlier in the week was well and truly blown away.

With Deschamps’ hopes to finally field the Bayern Munich man extinguished, the 45-year-old sought another way to improve Les Bleus’ potency going forward. His decision was to deploy Benzema on the left of a loose three-man attacking unit in the now-familiar 4-3-3 formation, with Giroud reprising his central role and Mathieu Valbuena once again featuring on the right.

It appears—on the evidence of this result—to have been a masterstroke.

Despite not finding the net himself, Olympique de Marseille’s Valbuena was the star once again and further underlined why he is the man whom opponents will have to fear when faced with the French this summer. The 29-year-old was key in a handful of goals—notably the first three—and he linked up superbly with Giroud and Benzema.

The Real Madrid man's roaming role empowered Valbuena and managed to get the best out of both creatively, while Benzema also showed great accuracy in front of goal. Despite a disappointing season at club level for Marseille, Valbuena appears to be in perfect form heading to Brazil and he will remain key to Deschamps' plans.

Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

The diminutive creator was at the heart of almost every France attack on the night and although he did put one foot wrong during the match—losing his footing with the goal at his mercy late on in the game—Griezmann was there to sweep home. The comic element of the goal adding to the feel-good factor at Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Benzema was another major positive on the night, continuing to show the confidence that has grown exponentially since breaking a 1,222-minute goal drought against Australia back in October and then netting the second goal in France’s heroic 3-0 play-off win over Ukraine in Paris.

The Real Madrid star showed in his 80-minute display that he is capable of stepping up and playing one of the decisive roles—if not the decisive role—for Les Bleus. Not only did he take his two goals exceptionally well, but he linked up superbly with Giroud and particularly Valbuena, appearing happy to play taker and maker in equal measure.

However, those positives should also be tempered by the fact that we have seen this before.

Prior to the 2012 UEFA European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, Benzema looked unplayable and was scoring goals for fun. Once there, he failed to score and did precious little else as Laurent Blanc’s side ended its campaign acrimoniously.

France know what Benzema is capable of, but he needs to produce these sorts of performances once Les Tricolores arrive in South America, not just in a one-off—and ultimately meaningless—friendly.

Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

It was not so much the system and the shape that worked so well on the night; it was more the fact that France got the best out of the 26-year-old, who was able to roam freely, something that—in turn—freed Valbuena too.

The movement and fluidity of the pair enabled Arsenal’s Giroud to capitalise and score once himself while also laying on another. Real Sociedad’s Griezmann also wasted no time in clicking into the same gear.

Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

France—frightening as it is for opponents to hear this—potentially have four in-form attacking talents heading to Brazil now after Benzema was added to the team after missing the first two warm-up matches.

If they can maintain this impressive level of performance, they will comfortably advance from Group E. Comparatively, Switzerland—arguably the better of their three group-stage adversaries—only managed a 1-0 win over the same Jamaica side just over one week earlier.

Following the frustration at having been punished for their wastefulness in front of goal by conceding a late equaliser to Paraguay in Nice last week, the team’s finishing was much better this time around. Although the defence was not really tested, it was an improved performance and one that stands Deschamps and his players in good stead as they prepare to travel to Brazil.

As for Ribery, life goes on without him in the French camp.

The Bayern man will be a sore miss at the tournament, but perhaps more for those keen to see the player who finished third in the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or award than for his team itself. Les Bleus—on this evidence—will not miss him greatly, as there are so many other talented options who now appear capable of stepping up in his absence.

A lot will depend on whether Benzema, Valbuena and Giroud can replicate the same sort of performances over the next few weeks, but the early signs are good for France.