5 Positives for France to Take from Their World Cup Group-Stage Performances
After three group games, France’s report card reads as follows: Eight goals scored, two goals conceded, seven points and no defeats. Most importantly, everyone is happy and together.
The ghosts of South Africa 2010 have been somewhat banished, and now France can go into the knockout stages void of any real problems and with a real sense of optimism.
France opened their campaign with a confident and professional 3-0 win against Honduras. Karim Benzema's penalty at the end of the first half was enough to open up the side from Central America, and the victory was guaranteed from early in the second half.
Against Switzerland, the nerves were calmed after the first 20 minutes. Goals from Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi gave Les Bleus a strong 2-0 lead, and Didier Deschamps' men ran out 5-2 winners.
The 0-0 draw against Ecuador wasn't the best game to watch, but it was a functional performance, with France doing enough to win the group.
This is probably the happiest a France squad has been since they won the European Championships 14 years ago.
Here are five positives for France to take from their World Cup group-stage performances.
A Squad Void of Any Disputes
After the disaster and controversy that followed the South Africa 2010 campaign, the group stage has gone in the complete opposite direction.
Back in 2010, the amount of players used by Raymond Domenech was only so high after two dismal performances for Les Bleus forced the coach into wholesale changes against South Africa. It didn't work and the squad had let everyone down.
This current squad couldn't be further from their compatriots of four years ago. Even the likes of Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna and Mathieu Valbuena—the only players to be part of both squads—look completely new men within the set-up.
Players who are dropped and replaced aren't causing a fuss, French success is now down to the collective rather than individual performances, and this is the biggest thing that Deschamps has changed about the national team.
The squad is problem free, trouble free and free of any off-the-field talking points. What a different four years can make.
Quiet Tournament for Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris is France’s captain, one of the elders of the group and the joint-second highest-capped player in the current squad.
However, the best thing about Lloris so far is that there has been no reason to mention him.
The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper was no more than a spectator against Honduras. The defence conceded twice against Switzerland with the game already over, and Ecuador didn't offer that much of a threat in the final game.
Goalkeepers such as Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico and Colombia's David Ospina have put in some great performances to help their teams into the knockout stage, but a great game for a 'keeper means the defence isn't doing its job.
Lloris has a very capable back four in front of him, and so far he has remained untroubled. The longer that continues the further, France will go in this tournament.
Karim Benzema in the Goals and Feeling Hungry
No matter how great the French defence may be performing, they aren't going to make it into the latter rounds without scoring goals.
Luckily for Deschamps, Karim Benzema has found his shooting boots and looks sharp and hungry.
The Real Madrid striker was inches away from a hat-trick against Honduras, then he added a third strike and two assists to an all-round superb performance against Switzerland.
Benzema is hungry for goals and is on the verge of making history for Les Bleus. No striker since Just Fontaine in 1958 has scored more than three goals for France at a World Cup.
Now he is only one strike away from being added to the French record books, there is no way the striker is going to let this opportunity slip this summer.
Strongest Squad France Have Had in over a Decade
During the three group games, Deschamps started with 17 different members of his 23-man squad.
This shows how strong the group of players that the French coach has at his disposal. The performances from the stand-in players have given Deschamps a few decisions to make before the knockout game against Nigeria on Monday.
All too often a side relies on the same 11 players to get them through the majority of a tournament, but France has at least 16 players who could start against the African side without the quality of the first XI being brought into question.
It opens up some interesting tactical options for Deschamps but also gives him great confidence that he has a huge group of players that he could call upon at the drop of a hat.
Didier Deschamps the Unchallenged Mastermind
France won their last pre-World Cup warm-up game against Jamaica by eight goals. Deschamps then made two changes for the opening game against Honduras.
That 3-0 win was followed up with another two changes as France destroyed Switzerland 5-2 in one of the best performances of the tournament.
In the final game, he made a further six changes, starting four players for the first time. Again France put in a decent performance and the 0-0 draw against Ecuador won the group.
Many people believe that you shouldn't change a winning team—some players will want to play no matter the situation to keep their confidence up—but Deschamps has ignored all normal conventions and it has worked to perfection.
The changes Deschamps made have helped his team adapt to the strengths of their opposition. Subtle changes have strengthened in key areas, and now the players have no doubts over any of his big decisions.
Full trust in Deschamps from the squad couldn't be further from the position Domenech found himself in at half-time of France vs. Mexico in 2010 when his players completely lost faith in his ability.
This is Deschamps' team, and the World Cup winner is in full control.