Preview : France v Sweden – World Cup Qualifiers
The fourth match of World Cup Qualifying in Europe’s Group A sees the top two face off with little between them. Equal on points (7), goal difference (+4), and goals scored (5), France welcome Sweden to the Stade de France knowing that this could be a key game in getting to Russia 2018.
Sweden’s 1-1 draw at home against the Netherlands was more impressive than France’s 0-0 ditto away in Belarus in the first round, but after that, les Bleus have put together the better performances. Sweden won 1-0 away in Luxembourg and 3-0 at home to Bulgaria; France knocked Bulgaria over 4-1, and then won away in the Netherlands through a long-range Pogba missile, so come into this in slightly better shape and also with home advantage.
An unfortunate number of players have fallen off Didier Deschamps’ preliminary squad, but overall the group looks strong. Now les Espoirs are back to playing friendlies after failing to qualify for the U21 Euros in the summer, some hot-shots have been clearly freed up. Adrien Rabiot scored on his 100th Ligue 1 appearance last weekend in PSG’s defeat of Rennes, and is looking for his first cap for the senior team.
Also included is Thomas Lemar, a late replacement for the injured Kingsley Coman. Regular FFW-watchers will know that we are big fans of the Monaco midfielder / winger, and not just because it gives Jez the opportunity to make terrible puns; he’s quick, he’s tricksy, and he’s dangerous (Lemar, not Jez. As much). In other quick / tricksy / dangerous news, Ousmane Dembele, who could still figure even more age-groups down, is also in the squad and looking for more minutes. Lemar seems unlikely to feature in the competitive match, but with a friendly against Cote D’Ivoire pencilled in for Tuesday, might get an opportunity there.
What is interesting is that some of the less-experienced players are not that young; also (still) looking for his first senior cap is Sebastien Corchia, for so long looking like France’s next big thing at rightback but now 26. He will have to wait longer, as Djibril Sidibe now looks a regular pick, having impressed for Lille last season but not getting his first call-up until he moved to Monaco, now 24. Nabil Fekir’s situation is obviously complicated by his long injury lay-off, putting over a year between his last cap (the 4-1 tonking of Bulgaria) and his previous appearance.
There’s still a slight air of conservatism about Deschamps’ selection, bringing in Patrice Evra for the injured Layvin Kurzawa, still picking Adil Rami, and Moussa Sissoko having played all qualifiers so far on the right. He insists, however, “j’aime bien les jeunes. Et puis, le talent n’a pas d’âge“, and the group as a whole looks a decent balance of youth and experience. Some old-stagers are being gently moved on, and youth being brought in where proven, albeit with those drop-outs for injury (as well as Kurzawa and Coman, Alphonse Areola and Samuel Umtiti have also had to pull out).
Swedish coach Janne Andersson said in his press conference that his team would play deep, and that picking so many players with a defensive profile was because he needed everyone to be able to defend, particularly the midfield two. They don’t seem to have a listed right-winger for their preferred 4-4-2 formation with Jimmy Durmaz predicted to start there and his fellow Toulousain Ola Toivonen next to John Guidetti up-front.
After favouring a 4-3-3 up to and including the Euros, Deschamps has moved to a 4-2-3-1 so far in the qualifiers. With Olivier Giroud apparently not quite there yet, Kevin Gameiro is probably the choice to start, the manager stressing that he has options both at the start, and during the match. Key questions therefore are who will get the left-back berth, and whether Deschamps persists with Sissoko on the right (probably) or gives Dembele his first start (hopefully).
Given Sweden’s stated approach, this will be a game in which France will need to break their opponents down, which could make for a frustrating evening if they cannot do that early. Deschamps has a wealth of attacking options on the bench, however, so the ability to change it up could be as important as starting well.