France slip through Bosnian net to qualify
For 70 minutes a shell-shocked France aimlessly roamed the Stade de France. Bosnia had sucker-punched them, pressing very high and grabbed a first half goal. But just when thoughts started to seriously drift to the playoffs (and a sure double date with Ireland), just when a gutless side seemed to be shrinking away, an unlikely source turned the game. Jéremy Menez?! The mercurial PSG winger–who like the rest of teammates had been totally abject up until this point–sprang into life. 1, 2, 3, 4 times he forced his way into the Bosnian defence on mazy runs, taking on defenders and winning free kicks. Individually it didn’t seem like much–none of his attacks resulted in the equalizer. But his runs definitely put Bosnia on the back foot and jolted their stranglehold on the game.
It was from one of those fouls that France produced their first real chance on goal. Nasri swung the free kick in on goal and Begovic (who had come on at halftime) saved the shot against the bar. It was a very good free kick–but a better one would have been further into the corner. As a result, Begovic had it covered–just.
The game had turned though and France were quickly on the attack again. This time, in the 77 minute Nasri was dancing his way past Saphic on the left side of the box and the Bosnian fouled him as he went by. It was very, very close to being outside the box, but the referee saw it as a penalty. Nasri’s foot was on the line as his body tumbled forwards. I couldn’t tell if anyone else wanted to take it but Nasri put the responsibility on his shoulders. He sent Begovic the wrong way and coolly slotted it in the opposite corner. Hello Poland and Ukraine!
From then on France looked relaxed and pressed on. They should have won it with several chances in the last 10 minutes–that would have been nice for the fans. First it was Evra getting in the box but over-running the 1-2 and then Menez was in acres of space but couldn’t place his shot. The best chance was when Menez got free wide of goal and crossed for Gameiro. Begovic was beaten but Gameiro was a fraction too slow to react and score. Bosnia made it a nervy finish with a few set pieces but France held out to book their automatic ticket.
First, the bad news: I find it incomprehensible that France could yet again come out so flat in a crucial game. It was very reminiscent of the Ireland game. Haven’t things progressed since then? Well, yes some aspects are certainly much improved but there is clearly still a leadership issue. No one was prepared to have a go until Menez 70 minutes into the game. And Blanc got his tactics all wrong, which was even more surprising.
The team had done just fine vs Albania, yet he chose to leave Gomis completely off the squad and play Rémy up front on his own. I found this extremely strange. Rémy is young, still raw and had never played up front on his own for France in such a massive game. He was predictably out of his depth. Point proved, when early on, amidst Bosnia’s fast start, he somehow found himself one on one with the keeper. His touch was so heavy though that he couldn’t even get a shot off.
A huge waste considering a goal would have settled everyone down. I feel bad for Rémy because I really like what he brings to the team–speed and width. He’s just not (yet) ready for this type of responsibility. It was clear from the Albania game how well he played alongside a natural target man. Why take that away from him?
The rest of the attack was toothless as well. Menez and Malouda were completely invisible in the 1st half. I’m really struggling to see what Malouda is bringing to this team. In a game like this he should have been leading this side! More worrying was the defence. They looked very nervy and were slack with the ball, being repeatedly caught out of possession while trying to play from the back. And then there’s the two defensive midfielders. I know Cabaye is supposed to be a playmaker but when you concede so much possession a player with his skill set is effectively a DM.
It’s a fine line between having possession and providing balls for the forwards and being pinned back and constantly chasing. It was no surprise when Dzeko scored in the 40th minute, in fact the goal should have come much, much earlier! From the get go Bosnia pressed high and were all over France. Their finishing let them down in the first 10 minutes–maybe they were surprised at how nonchalant the defending was…
Out of all the qualification groups with 6 teams, France had the lowest points total of any 1st place side and 2nd lowest goal difference (to Greece) in what was certainly not the hardest group. Hardly impressive.
Now, for the good news, because yes, there is some in all this! It’s easy to forget the injury situation. Mexes and Sagna were both out, forcing Abidal out of his best position to play centre back. He’s a much improved CB but this means bringing in Evra, who since South Africa has been way too kamikaze for me. Losing Benzema is an obvious blow as the talent and experience level really drops off after him. Gameiro could be a great back-up but his own injuries very much compounded his preparation for these last 2 games. Ribéry was also out although his influence is less predictable. He had been in good form though and would have probably forced Malouda to the bench! So considering the team was in such flux, it’s great to see them claw back and qualify automatically.
The qualification has seen a real spine develop in this team–something that has been sorely missing: Lloris-M’Vila-Benzema. It’s obviously so important to have a strong backbone to build around. Lloris has stepped up even more recently, producing many error free games. M’Vila is consistently one of the best performers and looks mature beyond his years. And we all know how well Benzema has played. A dominant centre back is still required along with an unquestioned top playmaker, which brings me to…
Nasri. He’s been so close to being that playmaker, to carrying this team creatively. He’s had his ups and downs but recently seems to have got his head screwed back on straight. And will this goal lift his confidence and cement his place in this side? It was a HUGE goal and he took it so calmly. France need more of that. He’s got several friendlies now to continue make himself undroppable.
Speaking of those friendlies, they will be so useful in adding to the depth and working in injured players. In some ways, I would have liked to have seen France react to even more adversity in the playoffs–but I’m not that much of a masochist! Realistically, this is a perfect situation for Blanc to keep improving the team. Roll on next summer!
France line-up: Lloris (c), Reveillere, Rami, Abidal, Evra, Nasri, M’Vila, Cabaye, Menez, Malouda, Remy