France firing blanks as Spain loom into view
If France are to take anything from next week’s pivotal World Cup qualifier against Spain, Didier Deschamps may have to reconfigure an attack that has scored only four times in four matches.
France were dominant in Friday’s friendly with Japan but their inability to convert that territorial control into goals cost them when Shinji Kagawa netted in the 88th minute to give the visitors a smash-and-grab 1-0 win.
As Deschamps confessed afterwards, the home side only had themselves to blame.
The corner count read 10-0 to France before the hour mark had even arrived, but although they recorded seven attempts on target, not once was visiting goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima really exposed.
It is starting to feel like something of a recurring theme.
Of those four goals scored since Deschamps took up the reins, three came in last month’s 3-1 win at home to Belarus, and France were also short of spark in both the goalless draw with Uruguay and the 1-0 victory in Finland.
Karim Benzema is still to score in the Deschamps era, but he and Franck Ribery often appear the only players capable of making things happen in the final third.
The Real Madrid striker could have scored three or four goals against Japan before being withdrawn at half-time, while Ribery tested Kawashima twice within minutes of entering the fray as a 68th-minute substitute.
As France’s L’Equipe sports newspaper drily noted on Saturday, “without Benzema and Ribery, nothing much happens”.
Benzema has not scored in his last eight international appearances but although he remains France’s most obvious goal threat, he has found himself used in a variety of different positions under Deschamps.
In the 0-0 draw with Uruguay, Deschamps’ first game in charge, he played slightly behind Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud in a 4-4-2 formation.
The following game, in Finland, saw him deployed as a lone striker and against Belarus he played on the right-hand side of the attack, in order to accommodate Giroud in the centre.
Deschamps’ perseverance with Giroud meant Benzema played from the left against Japan but there does not appear to be any real understanding between the pair, who exchanged less than a handful of passes during their time on the pitch together.
It was not until the second half on Friday evening that France began to really work Kawashima, but Deschamps knows that they cannot afford to be so profligate against Spain.
“Today (Friday) we had lots of opportunities. Even with the best will in the world, I don’t think we’ll have as many against Spain,” said the France coach.
“We’ll need to defend well and, when we create chances, we’ll have to be more clinical.”
In any case, defence will be more of a priority than attack against a Spain team who brushed France aside 2-0 when the teams met in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals in June.
Deschamps’ predecessor, Laurent Blanc, was criticised for selecting a conservative line-up for that encounter in Donetsk, and French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has called for greater enterprise from France when the teams resume hostilities.
“I really hope that France are at the level of this crucial match,” he said.
“The objective is to win. The players are conscious of that.”
While France were toiling against Japan, Spain were assembling a comfortable 4-0 win over Belarus that means they will go into Tuesday’s game in Madrid in first place in Group I.
Given the context, a draw seems an acceptable objective for France, but Deschamps may need something to click in his forward line if the visitors are to leave the Spanish capital without another chastening defeat.