Pre-World Cup friendlies are supposed to be nothing more than a warm-up for the real thing. But sometimes, they turn out to be dangerous traps for over-confident or exhausted teams. France reassured its supporters on Tuesday night by winning its first game 4-0 against Norway, and playing some inspired football in the process.
Two factors stood out in the comfortable win for Didier Deschamps’ men:
1. Deschamps opts for fitness
Far too many French players are currently injured; Franck Ribery and Eliaquim Mangala joined Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane among the unavailable possible starters. Deschamps, therefore, had to pick players who will not necessarily enjoy much game time once the real tournament begins.
It must be noted, though, that everyone seems to be motivated in the French team. Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena appear to have a promising understanding on the field. Loic Remy proved once again that he’s a very talented finisher, as his time at Newcastle showed. Lucas Digne demonstrated an incredible work-rate on the left flank and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier had a very solid game despite not having much to do.
2. Leaders have emerged
Laurent Koscielny’s place at center back was considered uncertain with Mangala, Varane and Mamadou Sakho pushing to be in the starting XI but the Arsenal man took advantage of the injuries and had a very solid game. A recent statistic showed that he was the tidiest defender in England in possession, with 94 percent of his passes completed, and he proved it yesterday – his passing was perfect.
The three-man midfield of Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi stopped every attack attempted by the opponent and played as if they had been alongside each other for years. Up front, Olivier Giroud’s efficiency and selflessness and was rewarded with two goals.
National team coaches like to work on and rethink their teams until the very last minute before the tournament, but they are very happy when they can count on a strong, reliable spine. In 1998, that was already the case with Fabien Barthez, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane. Paraguay, France’s next opponent, should be fearful.