Les Bleus bandwagon gaining momentum

In-form striker Karim Benzema leading by example for Didier Deschamps’ France with nine goals in eight games

France’s  Blaise Matuidi in action against Switzerland during the Group E clash  at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. Photo:  Christopher Lee/Getty

France’s Blaise Matuidi in action against Switzerland during the Group E clash at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty

Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 07:00

There are several ways to win a World Cup but finding momentum at just the right moment is one of the surest paths to success. Just ask the unfancied Brazil and Italy sides that hit form when it mattered in 2002 and 2006.

This explains the sudden flowering of optimism in France following their team’s blistering start in Brazil. Absent from most people’s lists of contenders before it kicked off there is now a blue bandwagon rolling through the tournament.

After scoring eight goals in their opening two games the French go into today’s match against Ecuador in the Maracanã knowing it would take a remarkable combination of results to deny them top spot in Group E.

Even so, the remote possibility of finishing as runner-up and facing Argentina in the second round as well as the need to maintain that precious momentum means Les Bleus insist there will be no change to their approach against Ecuador.

“We need to avoid taking our foot off the pedal even if there is not a huge amount at stake,” advised full-back Mathieu Debuchy. “We want to win this match and maintain our positive dynamic in order to prepare well for what is to come.”

This “positive dynamic” and the spirit in the squad have coach Didier Deschamps refusing to shy away from comparisons with the World Cup-winning vintage of 1998. A win today and these will only increase with this group of players becoming the first since Deschamps’ own generation to win all their group games at the tournament.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a country which in recent years made headlines for infighting in the dressing room and various humiliations on the pitch. Deschamps looks to have banished those ghosts by imposing his own legendary iron will on his squad.

Blistering display

So far his man-management has been flawless. He surprise decision to drop striker Oliver Giroud for the opening game against Honduras was rewarded with a blistering display when the Arsenal man was restored against the Swiss. There was no hint of rebelliousness when he axed Paul Pogba for that match after his rash lashing out at Wilson Palacios in the opener.

A measure of Deschamps’ success is no-one is now questioning his decision to dispense with the moody Samir Nasri from his plans or hand him a late call-up when he lost his star man Franck Ribéry to injury just before setting off for Brazil.

France’s base for an assault on a second title is the best midfield unit on show at the tournament so far, featuring Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye with Pogba and Moussa Sissoko now fighting it out for the third slot.

It is full of running, has provided excellent defensive cover and supports an attack where Karim Benzema looks determined to make up for lost time, remarkably appearing in his first World Cup aged 26.

More than any other French player he best understands the mercurial nature of momentum having gone 15 matches without a goal for his country before scoring against Australia in October. Since then he has registered nine in his eight matches.

But Deschamps will make changes today. Lille’s Rio Mavuba is set to come in for the suspended Cabaye who rather conveniently picked up a second yellow card against the Swiss.

Eliaquim Mangala could also replace the precocious Real Madrid stopper Raphaël Varane who has been laid low by a bout of gastroenteritis while Mamadou Sakho is rushing to recover from the thigh injury that saw him limp out of the Swiss game.

But Ecuador’s captain Antonio Valencia took little comfort from the proposed changes.

Very focused

“France could field three teams in one day,” he claimed.

“They are not going to change their way of playing or thinking. We will have to be very focused.”

Ecuador’s coach Reinaldo Rueda has delayed naming his side but said he will make few changes from the team that defeated Honduras 2-1.

With a point possibly enough for his side to quality, Rueda warned Ecuador would seek to make it a tight affair. “We are going to try and keep it closed because of what we need and because they have some inspired ones that we have to know how to control,” he said.

Ecuador will be looking to striker Enner Valencia – who also has three goals in Brazil – to continue a streak that has seen him score in each of his last six appearances.

Almost certainly just needing to match the Swiss result against Honduras, the Ecuadoreans will be hoping for a typically committed performance from the Central Americans who still have a slim chance of sneaking through in second place in the unlikely scenario that they hammer the Swiss and Ecuador lose heavily.

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