An entertaining draw was played out today in Monterrey. France will feel the happier side after the Japanese dominated most of the game with their neat passing and excellent patient football. Both teams are now joint top of Group B with four points and both will be hopeful of qualifying from the group stage.
Patrick Gonfalone made four changes to the France side that was so impressive against Argentina. Antoine Conte and Aymeric Laporte came in at the full back positions. Tiemoue Bakayoko replaced Souahilo Meite in the midfield and two goal hero Yassine Benzia was dropped to the bench for Adam N’Kusu.
The formation looked to lean more towards a 4-2-3-1 than the usual 4-4-1-1 – Abdallah Yaisine was dropping far deeper than he did in the first game and on the wings Lenny Nangis and Nkusu weren’t pushing as high as against Argentina.
A slow start to the game for the French as the Japanese side took control patiently passing the ball around. France seemed happy to sit back and invite the pressure onto them and looked to hit on the break. Japan expectedly created the first chance as Fumiya Hayakawa broke through the French back line but Lionel Mpasi Nzau rushed out to snuff out the chance.
Midway through the first half France hit on the break. Kurt Zouma broke from his centre back role and in a Lucio style 60-yard run he turned defence into attack, pushed the ball wide to Nkusu, the Le Havre winger but inside, laid the ball off to Yaisine; the midfielder took a touch and then beautifully curled the ball into Kosuke Nakamura’s top corner. The keeper had no chance and against the run of play France took the lead.
After the goal Japan again took control of the play, passing the ball around the field but France were comfortable to watch the game in front of their defence. Zouma and Raphael Calvet were playing well controlling the young defence and keeping the Japanese at bay. Japan would have to step up the intensity in the second half if they were to breach this French defence.
At the start of the second half France were forced to make a change and Sébastien Haller the centre forward was replaced by Meite. The Auxerre player had played in central midfield against Argentina but looked to be a like for like replacement for Haller.
The Japanese again started well and this time they got a break. Hideki Ishige raced into the box, Calvet seemed to have him covered but Conte raced over and bundled the Japanese player over, the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Ishige took the penalty himself and sent Nzau the wrong way. A well-deserved equaliser, the question was could they go on and take all three points?
The answer in the end would be no. Both teams had their chances, Benzia came on for Nkusu and instantly improved the France side but they couldn’t find a way past Nakamura. With Meite and Benzia both shooting wide from half chances.
Japan’s best chance came when Musashi Suzuki put the ball between Calvet’s legs, reached the by-line then cut the ball back towards the centre but Ishige could only turn his shot wide off Nzau’s post.
Both full backs that were brought in didn’t impress Laporte was all but invisible, Conte started well but got caught out of position a few times and gave away the penalty. Calvet wasn’t as impressive as he was against Argentina however his partner Zouma had a superb game. His positioning his excellent, dominant in the air and also showed he was competent on the ball, breaking forward from the back line with a couple of 40+ yard runs.
In the midfield Tameze and Bakayoko didn’t close down the play as well and Meite and Tameze did in the first leg, this gave Japan the time to play the ball around at their leisure. This could be done to the intense Mexican heat, at times the sides looked weary from the conditions.
Nangis started well as did Nkusu but they were starved of any service. Yaisine had to continually drop deep to receive the ball, this brought a massive gap between him and Haller up front on his own until the big Auxerre striker was replaced.
Yassine Benzia did his reputation no harm when he came on. The Lyon man has obvious skill and ability and at only 16 years old it was with caution that he is praised however it’s clear to see why he is highly rated. As surprising as Meite’s move to the front line was he played the role well, showing ability on the ball with some nice touches, the big Auxerre man showing his versatility.
In the end the French will be happy with the point. Japan might feel slightly aggrieved that they couldn’t capatilise, however both will be happy with the position they find themselves with one game left.
France play Jamaica in the last group game this Friday in Monterrey and a point will be enough to see them advance.
TEAM: Nzau, Conte, Calvet, Zouma, Laporte, Bakayoko, Tameze, Nangis, N’Kusu, Yaisine, Haller
Subs: Meite on for Haller 46′ – Benzia on for N’Kusu 63′ – Ikoko on for Conte 70′
GOALS: YAISINE (FRA) 24′ – Ishige (Jap) 49′ Pen