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Friday, June 18, 2010

French Toast

Where did it all go wrong?

France put in possibly the least inspired performance of the World Cup in their 2-0 loss to Mexico on Thursday, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Raymond Domenech has made a number of poor decisions in his time as manager of France, and this World Cup has been one blunder after another. Excluding Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri from France's World Cup squad, excluding Florent Malouda from their starting line-up against Uruguay, playing Sidney Govou from the start in both games, dropping Yoann Gourcuff, refusing to utilize Thierry Henry ... I could go on and on.

Perhaps Domenech's biggest mistake was his failure to instruct his players on how to properly execute a 4-2-3-1 formation.

France have the ideal players to maximize the 4-2-3-1. Their two fullbacks, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, have the athleticism to be the attacking force they are with their English club sides. They do it week in, week out for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, yet they fail to replicate that form for their country.
When France are in possession of the ball, one of the full-backs should be pushed forward to create 2-on-1 situations with the three attacking midfielders.

One of the two defensive midfielders, Abou Diaby or Jeremy Toulalan, should then slide across and fill in for the attacking fullback. The other defensive midfielder then provides protection in front of the back four.
Brazil use this formation to great effect, as do Germany and Holland. It allows teams to attack with five or even six players when in possession, while still providing cover where it is needed.

Yet France failed to do this effectively against Mexico, and it was one reason why they never looked like they were getting a result against a well-organized, skillful Mexican team. As the man in charge, Domenech is the first one responsible for getting the basics of this system across to the players. Clearly he has failed to do so, and he should carry a large portion of the blame that will be handed out if, as expected, France crash out of the World Cup at the first hurdle.

But Domenech is not entirely at fault for France's demise.

One has to question the character of the French players, who should have taken responsibility for their collective poor performance. There isn't one French player who can walk away from their first two games at the World Cup with their head held high, as each and every one of them performed below the levels they have shown for their club teams.

When the whistle blows, it is up to the players to come together as a team and work as a unit to achieve their common goal. France have failed miserably in South Africa, and rather than blaming their woes on Domenech alone, the players should instead take a long look at themselves and their own individual contribution.

Contrast the tactics and team performance of France with their opponents last night, Mexico.

Mexican coach Javier Aguirre tinkered with his line-up slightly, moving newly appointed skipper Rafael Marquez into midfield, central defender Ricardo Osorio to right fullback and bringing in central defender Hector Moreno. This allowed Mexico to play a 4-3-3 formation when France had possession of the ball, and a 3-4-3 formation when control of the ball changed hands.

Against South Africa, both Paul Aguilar and Carlos Salcido, the two wingbacks, pushed forward at will. Against France, with the more defensive minded Osorio occupying Aguilar's place, Mexico pushed Salcido forward when in possession to give them four midfielders. Salcido had a fantastic game, and while he didn't score himself, he was a constant menace to the French.

As for the Mexican players themselves, there is none of the ego and arrogance in their squad that seems to be in abundance in the French camp. Instead, there is a confidence and belief that they will achieve success together as a unit, all executing their individual jobs for the benefit of the team.

Based on the evidence of last night's game, Mexico deserve a place in the knockout stage of the tournament ... and France deserve to go home.

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