France Camp Focus – Lack of cutting edge continues to hurt les Bleus following embarrassing defeat

France suffered a surprising defeat to unheralded opponents China in their last friendly match ahead of the World Cup which begins less than a week from now. While the goal conceded by France was embarrassing for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, it must be said the free-kick took a wicked twist in mid-air to completely fool the Lyon shot-stopper and make him look amateurish.

Lloris will probably add his voice to the growing list of goalkeepers, players and coaches who have complained about the unpredictability of the World Cup’s official ball, particularly when sailing in the air. The likes of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Spanish counterpart Iker Casillas have been vocal about their disapproval of the Jabulani ball, used by FIFA in South Africa 2010.

Coach Raymond Domenech’s concerns extend beyond the controversial official ball to include France’s inability to score goals and the embarrassing performances shown by his charges, not just against China but even in the lackluster draw with Tunisia and the unconvincing win against Costa Rica. The Coach admitted he is worried about the ineptitude shown by les Bleus in front of goal, claiming his side created enough opportunities to score but was unable to convert any of the chances. Defender William Gallas, who is fast turning into a scoring option for the profligate French, found the back of the net with an audacious attempt, yet his strike was ruled out for an imaginary offside call. The Chinese players rarely threatened the French goal but their first shot on target, the free-kick on 68th minute, ended taking a major swerve to baffle Lloris, who desperately attempted to change direction to make a late save, but failed. One other troubling factor for Domenech and his players is the fact China were missing a number of their starters, heaping further embarrassment upon the French, in what was supposed to be a celebration of the Coach’s record-breaking 76th match in charge of les Bleus.

France controlled the match with just under 70% of ball possession and had 21 shots, including nine on target, compared to just three attempts, with two on target, by China’s players. Zeng Cheng was quite impressive in goal for the Chinese, while his organised teammates showed once more how the French are unable to breakdown a solid backline to invoke memories of the miserable 2002 World Cup. The Coach appears adamant on using the same line-up which started the previous two friendly games and will likely start the World Cup campaign with trio Franck Ribery, Sidney Govou and Nicolas Anelka – who time and again struggled to break through the disciplined Chinese defensive line despite a rather bright start by main protagonist Ribery.

The Coach presented Mathieu Valbuena with his second senior cap, yet the 20 minutes the Marseille player was afforded were not enough for him to leave his mark on the match, despite his positive demeanour. France’s all-time leading scorer was once again used as a second-half substitute, yet Thierry Henry was unable to shake off his visible rust after spending the last stretch of the season on the Barcelona bench. The only bright spot was perhaps another consistent showing from Arsenal’s Abou Diaby who came on as a second-half substitute for Florent Malouda. His performance, albeit nothing out of the ordinary, was far better than some of the other players in midfield, so it remains to be seen if the stubborn Domenech will finally budge and make the necessary adjustment to give the Arsenal man a bigger role in the line-up.

While France’s group on paper might appear winnable, the road is filled with traps for Domenech’s charges considering the South Africans will be eager to impress in front of their home crowd and in the first ever World Cup held on the African continent. The other two teams completing the group are a talented Mexican side, which tested England in a losing effort before concluding the friendly schedule with an impressive 2-1 win over World Cup holders Italy, and a Uruguay team which eliminated Costa Rica 2-1 on aggregate in the qualifying stages after a two-legged play-off decider. France recently beat Costa Rica 2-1 but without much conviction, while the Uruguayans remind les Bleus of the dismal World Cup campaign in eight years ago when the two teams drew 0-0.

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