5 Things for France Fans to Look Forward to Following Draw with Ecuador

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2014

5 Things for France Fans to Look Forward to Following Draw with Ecuador

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    France's 0-0 draw with Ecuador secured Didier Deschamps' men finishing top of Group E and with it a round of 16 clash with Nigeria.

    Before the game, Deschamps made six changes to the side that destroyed Switzerland 5-2, with a mixture of injuries, suspension and resting players leading the France coach into the decision.

    Les Bleus started well, controlling the game in the first 20 minutes, but Ecuador were resilient and battled well. It was a tough, physical and gruelling game for both sides, and in the end, an impressive goalkeeping performance from Alexander Dominguez kept the scores level.

    There were a lot of positives for France to take from the match, the most important being that they aren't filled with too much overconfidence going into the last 16.

    Seven points from the group stage puts them on parity with Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica, but it leaves the majority of the praise going toward the Netherlands, Argentina and Colombia.

    To succeed in this tournament, France need to fly as much under the radar as possible.

    Qualification for the knockout stages was the first goal for Deschamps and Les Bleus, and now that they have achieved one of their goals, they can concentrate on going far in the competition.

    Deschamps was able to rest certain key players without losing all of the momentum they have built, and the players who come back in will be highly motivated to get this team as far as possible.

    Here are five things that France supporters have to look forward to in the wake of the 0-0 draw with Ecuador.

The Hunger of Karim Benzema

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    No French player has scored more than three goals at a World Cup since Just Fontaine in 1958. Karim Benzema had the chance to break that record on Wednesday night, but the goalless draw means he will have to wait until Monday for another attempt.

    This will leave the Real Madrid striker hungry for success; he will not want to leave Brazil wondering about what might have been.

    5 - Karim Benzema has played a part in 5 of #FRA’s 8 goals at this World Cup (3 goals, 2 assists). Leader.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 25, 2014

    After scoring three goals in two games, seeing a shot crash off the inside of the post against Honduras and having a second goal ruled out against Switzerland as time ran out, he will never have a better chance to fire away the failures of the past.

Not Living in the Shadows of the Past

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    The last time France won all three group games was back in 1998, and we all know what happened then.

    If Les Bleus had beaten Ecuador on Wednesday, the links to the team of ’98 would have been hard to stop, expectations would have grown and that is something that Deschamps would prefer to avoid.

    France will come up against a stiff test in Nigeria: The African side scored twice against Argentina, and with a few players familiar to the French style from their time in Ligue 1, they will be no pushovers.

    5 - #FRA have reached at least the semi-finals of the World Cup in the last 5 editions in which they've gone past the group stages. Bleus.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 26, 2014

    Back in 1998, France struggled against Paraguay in the round of 16; it took a Laurent Blanc “Golden Goal” for France to advance. The 2014 team now have the chance to move on from this draw with expectations lowered, but belief in the camp is still as high as ever.

    For France, this is the best combination going into the knockout stages.

The Return of Mathieu Valbuena

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    One clear missing element from France’s play on Wednesday was the guile and creativity of Marseille midfielder, Mathieu Valbuena.

    The 29-year-old has been one of France’s most impressive players in the first two games, and with Deschamps resting him for one game, it clearly showed just how important he is to how his country plays.

    Valbuena will return for the game against Nigeria, and he will be eager to continue where he left off.

    Valbuena one of the big winners of that first-half. France so flat, lacking energy without him #FRA #clubmetro

    — James Eastham (@james_eastham) June 25, 2014

    The diminutive playmaker has excelled for his country over the last 18 months, and he will be desperate to carry his country on his small frame as far as they can go.

Didier Deschamps' Belief in the Collective

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Out of the 23 players Deschamps picked for this World Cup, he has already started 17 of them over the three games; another two have featured as substitutes.

    This shows an incredible amount of trust and unity from the France boss in what is such an important tournament for Les Bleus.

    #Fra So far Deschamps has started 17 of his 23 man squad. 19 players have featured for Les Bleus. Trust #WorldCup2014

    — FFW (@FrenchFtWeekly) June 26, 2014

    The contrast from four years ago is staggering. Raymond Domenech had started 12 different players after two games; five more players started the last group game against South Africa.

    However, this was due to the team’s awful performances rather than the strong position they held in the group.

    Remy Cabella and Eliaquim Mangala are the only outfield players who haven’t featured so far. Deschamps obviously has complete trust in this group. Both players played some part in the warm-up games, so they are far from outcasts.

    This harmony and belief can only bode well as France advance through the tournament.

Winnable Game Against Nigeria to Come

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    Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

    The main aim for France during the group stage was to avoid Argentina in the round of 16. That mission was accomplished with the point against Ecuador and the South America side topping their group after beating Nigeria, 3-2.

    France now take on the African Cup of Nations winners on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals, and it is a game in which France are set up with a very good chance of progressing.

    The worst possible scenario for Les Bleus would have been to face a team that sits back and soaks up pressure. The organised performance from Iran against Argentina would have worried Deschamps, which is exactly the type of team France struggle to break down.

    Nigeria will attack. They will come forward in numbers, and France will have the chance to hit them on the counterattack, using their superior players to their advantage. Nigeria’s defence is not their strongest position, and Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Valbuena will be confident of creating a number of chances against the Super Eagles.

    If France plays the way they performed against Switzerland, they will definitely score a few goals, and then, it’s over to the defence.