France confirmed their status as Group E winners in the FIFA World Cup 2014, drawing 0-0 with 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana.
It was by no means a dull affair, with Antoine Griezmann going closest to opening the scoring but seeing his close-range effort diverted into the bar by goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
Formations and XIs
Ecuador played their usual 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system but dropped Felipe Caicedo in favour of Michael Arroyo. The latter played as a deeper forward, closing down in midfield and allowing Enner Valencia the "prima punta" role.
France continued with their 4-3-3 but made six changes. Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Lucas Digne, Paul Pogba, Morgan Schneiderlin and Griezmann came into the side.
Using the Left
Despite all the personnel changes, France continued to favour one flank in attack and built most attacks down the left.
Credit Didier Deschamps in this instance, as he remains committed to playing to his players' strengths. Karim Benzema is playing as a deep, liberal No. 10 to get the best from him, and against Switzerland he was moved to the left to use the space Stephan Lichtsteiner left behind.
The same approach—maximising potential output—was taken with Digne, and he was allowed to advance all the way up the left side and stretch the pitch. He wasn't dumped in defence and forced to defend Antonio Valencia one-on-one, and Sagna played a more reserved role on the left to balance out the formation.
At times, the Paris Saint-Germain product was on the shoulder of the defence he was so advanced, opening himself up as a great out-ball/switch option and hauling in plenty of passes.
Blaise Matuidi would then underlap him and receive a slotted pass, breaching the channels like he did against Honduras and pulling passes across the box.
Ecuador sat deep all game with two banks of four, asking Arroyo to close down Schneiderlin whilst on the ball and asking Enner Valencia to pressure the centre-backs in possession.
Digne's aggressive stance meant Antonio Valencia had a tough time getting forward, and only a small amount of joy could be found from their usual switch to Jefferson Montero.
Antonio Valencia's red card in the second half ensured Reinaldo Rueda continued with a counter-attacking philosophy, converting to a 4-4-1 with Arroyo filling in on the wing.
Deschamps couldn't find a way around the system with the current personnel on the pitch, so he opted to make a change to try and win the game.
Freeing up Benzema
Bringing on Olivier Giroud did two things: give France a more physical sticking point up front against Frickson Erazo and Co. and free up Benzema to play loosely off the left.
It's the second point that allowed Les Bleus to fashion a succession of clear-cut chances late on, as he dipped between the lines, found space and tortured Juan Carlos Paredes.
Shots, slipped through-balls and switches to Griezmann became common, and a goal felt like a matter of time...only for Alexander Dominguez to spoil the would-be party.
The Ecuador goalkeeper made nine saves, per WhoScored.com, in an unbelievable display of athleticism and shot-stopping. Granted, some of the strikes were straight at him, but he was called into action frequently and never disappointed.
It's the end of the road for Ecuador, who stand as the only South American team who failed to qualify for the knockout stages.
France avoid Argentina in the round of 16 by virtue of winning the game, so they'll face Nigeria on the final day of the month.
Deschamps did just enough here to keep his key players fit and in form, and no major injuries were sustained in the process.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!