Claude Paris/Associated Press
France's Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring against Paraguay.
With four points in hand, Ecuador take to Rio and the Maracana where they'll face off against France. Les Bleus recently lost star-man Franck Ribery to a back injury but still managed to put eight past Jamaica in a recent friendly. Braces from Karim Benzema, Blaise Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann showcased strong depth without the Ballon d'Or finalist.
The Jamaica win came just a few days after a 1-1 draw with Paraguay, in which Griezmann scored his first international goal, while an earlier pre-Cup friendly yielded a simple 4-0 win over Norway. Despite losing one of their key figures to injury, France enter the tournament in strong form.
It almost seems like a different era when, just last November, France were two goals down to Ukraine at the midway point of their two-legged qualification playoff. A 3-0 reverse at the Stade de France salvaged the tie, though, in a far less controversial fashion than the escape against Republic of Ireland in 2009.
They were consigned to the playoff after finishing second in their qualifying group, with their one loss in eight games coming at the hands of Spain.
Top to bottom, even without the likes of Ribery and Samir Nasri, France boast one of the most talented squads in this tournament. From the back with goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris to the frontline and Benzema, it's hard to pick out a true weak spot.
B/R's Jonathan Johnson claims that the four men defending Lloris might prove to be such a weakness, and it's certainly a valid claim. There's a lot of talent to choose from in the middle—think Laurent Koscielny, Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane and Eliaquim Mangala—but all have things working against them as well.
Sakho played the hero in the 3-0 win over Ukraine, netting twice in the salvo, but had a tough first season in England. Koscielny might get the nod alongside the Liverpool man, given his experience and strong domestic season, but his shaky performance contributed to the 2-0 Ukraine loss that has to stick in Didier Deschamps' mind.
Varane, regarded as one of the top youngsters at his position, will surely be ready to jump at an opportunity should it come to him, as he's shown already at Real Madrid when fit. The full-backs seem well entrenched, though, with Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy the favorites, and Bacary Sagna available as cover.
It's the midfield, as Johnson noted, that will propel France as far as they can go in Brazil, much like Zidane did in 2006. While Zizou won't be taking the field, the trio of Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye and Paul Pogba rivals any the legend played with—far outstripping the Tim Sherwood-led Blackburn midfield for which he supposedly wasn't good enough.
Matuidi brings a tough-tackling mentality, powerful motor and nifty right foot, while Cabaye brings vision, passing and an eye for flair that made him a hero at Newcastle. Pogba brings the best of both and, still just 21, it's still puzzling how Manchester United just let him go.
Up top, Benzema has been scoring goals at a high rate recently. He endured a goal drought of more than 20 hours worth of game time through much of 2012 and 2013 but is back in form and raring to go. He'll be supported by Mathieu Valbuena and Griezmann, whose stock must surely be surging with his international breakout.
France were always going to be the toughest test for Ecuador, and they'll prove to be just that in this match. Rueda's side just doesn't have an answer to most of these guys and, barring either some forced defensive errors or a South Africa-esque implosion from France, La Tri's run will end here.
Ecuador 1-3 France
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