France vs. Norway: 6 Things We Learned
France got their World Cup preparations off to an ideal start Tuesday by thumping Norway, 4-0, in Paris.
Olivier Giroud scored twice for Les Bleus, and both Paul Pogba and Loic Remy also found the back of the net as the hosts won their third match in succession—all coming after their defeat to Ukraine in the first leg of their qualification play-off.
Since that setback, there has been no stopping France, as Ukraine, beaten, 3-0, in the return match, the Netherlands and now Norway have all discovered.
The 1998 World Cup winners can take plenty of positives from their latest victory, and following are what they, as well as Tuesday’s opponents, will have learned from the encounter.
6. Switching off
France came out guns blazing to start Tuesday’s match, and within the opening two minutes, both Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had come close to scoring.
As it happened, it took a quarter-hour for Les Bleus to take the lead—Paul Pogba turning Mathieu Valbuena’s cross behind Norway goalkeeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland.
But from there, they took their foot off the gas and allowed their opponents back into the contest.
Joshua King caused plenty of problems for Mathieu Debuchy, and until the half-time whistle, it was the Norwegians who were bossing possession.
France can’t afford to switch off like that during the World Cup, where they’ll be facing far more capable opposition.
5. Vulnerability out Wide
Joshua King, who plays his club football for Blackburn Rovers, was a handful until his substitution in the 63rd minute.
He, along with left-back Tom Hogli, caused plenty of problems opposite France right-back Mathieu Debuchy, who didn't benefit from midfield support like Patrice Evra and Lucas Digne later did from Blaise Matuidi.
No doubt France’s group stage opponents—Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland—will have picked up on this, and Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, in particular, will no doubt be salivating at the matchup.
4. Norway Lack Finishing
Norway controlled large swaths of play, particularly in the first half, but struggled to create meaningful openings in the final third.
Gone are the days of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Tore Andre Flo and John Carew (the three combined for 70 international goals), and Mohamed Elyounoussi simply didn’t cut it on Tuesday.
Cardiff City youngster Mats Moller Daehli showed flashes of promise, but if Norway are to be competitive in Euro 2016 qualifying, they’ll need to find a way to turn possession into goals.
3. Griezmann and Valbuena
Franck Ribery wasn’t involved in Tuesday’s friendly, and after a subpar season at Bayern Munich, the reigning UEFA Best Player in Europe looks to be in a battle just to retain his starting spot ahead of the World Cup.
His competition? Antoine Griezmann.
The Real Sociedad attacker was tremendous against Norway—charging down the left when necessary and frequently dropping deep to involve himself in the buildup.
Similarly, Mathieu Valbuena laid claim to the starting position on the right-hand side of the attack.
The Marseille maestro was involved in three French goals at Stade de France and lifted his side when Norway were knocking at the door.
2. Pogba Can Run the Midfield
That Paul Pogba played only 45 minutes against Norway likely revealed that he is already guaranteed a starting spot against Honduras.
But what a 45 minutes.
Whether winning back possession in the centre of the park or bombing forward into the goalmouth, the 21-year-old showed the sort of power and energy his country became accustomed to during the days of Patrick Vieira.
He also found the back of the net on Tuesday—heading Mathieu Valbuena’s excellent cross into the back of the net.
1. France Are for Real
Sure, it was only Norway, and at times they looked as though they were on their heels.
But on the whole, France put in the sort of performance that will surely have their Group E opponents quaking in their boots, and a likely round of 16 matchup with one of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria will likely suit them nicely as well.
They’ve even done away with the infighting that saw their 2010 World Cup campaign derail so embarrassingly in South Africa.
France are legitimate World Cup contenders, and they happen to play some lovely stuff as well.