Key Battles That Will Shape France's Clash with Switzerland

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape France's Clash with Switzerland

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    SALVADOR, Brazil — With France and Switzerland both having won their opening World Cup games, this match could effectively be a play-off to decide who tops the group.

    The rivalry between these two international neighbours is intense, and their games are typically won by the slimmest of margins.

    In this piece, we examine some of the key tactical battles to watch out for when Les Bleus meet La Nati.

Mathieu Valbuena vs. Ricardo Rodriguez

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    In the absence of Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena is France’s key playmaker. The diminutive Marseille midfielder is granted license to drift all over the pitch, but he is ostensibly deployed on the right wing.

    On that flank, he will come up against 21-year-old Wolfsburg left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

    Rodriguez was arguably Switzerland’s most impressive performer in their opener against Ecuador, playing a part in both goals. He is not just an athletic and astute defender—he also has the stamina and the skill to offer a constant threat going forward.

    The victor in this duel could offer crucial momentum to his team. 

Karim Benzema vs. Johan Djourou

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    Karim Benzema was in electric form against Honduras, scoring twice and effectively forcing a third. With two goals already under his belt, he will have his eyes on the World Cup’s Golden Boot.

    The man charged with stopping him is likely to be Johan Djourou.

    Unlike Benzema, Djourou endured a difficult opening game. His poor concentration played a big role in Ecuador taking the lead, for it was his man who darted ahead of him to head home from a routine set piece.

    Djourou must improve if he is to stand any chance of keeping Benzema at bay. 

Mamadou Sakho vs. Josip Drmic

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    The first battle Josip Drmic must win is the fight for a place in the starting XI.

    Against Ecuador, he was replaced by Haris Seferovic, who grabbed the crucial late winner. However, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is a big believer in Drmic’s talents, and he is likely to keep him in his team.

    Another factor in Hitzfeld’s thinking will be the trouble Drmic’s searing pace could give France centre-half Mamadou Sakho. Sakho is a strong, powerful defender but struggles with nippy forwards like Drmic.

    Hitzfeld will hope Drmic’s intelligent movement and incisive running can unsettle Sakho and thus France.

Yohan Cabaye vs. Gokhan Inler

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    Both of these teams use a deep-lying playmaker to start off their attacks.

    France’s moves tend to go through the elegant Yohan Cabaye. He has a superb eye for a pass, and if Switzerland don’t close him down, he will pick them off at will.

    Gokhan Inler is more typically regarded as a ball-winner, but in this Switzerland side, he tends to get space to begin moves from deep.

    If Inler can move the ball quicker and more imaginatively than he did against Ecuador, the Swiss could control the possession and prevent Cabaye from dictating matters.