Tunisia – France : what to watch for

Quick post before tonight’s game (9PM GMT+1) at Stade du 7-Novembre in Radès, Tunisia, with a few observations.

French press is acting like the flip-floppers they are and are now praising Domenech for changing the tactical organization to a 4-3-3, after having called for his resignation for an uninterrupted two years. So,  on this front, all is well. Bixente Lizarazu is still complaining that Henry is not playing, making the relatively logical argument that if you don’t give Henry playing time,  then he’ll never get in shape for the World Cup. Henry is more than likely to play 45 minutes tonight again, and if he shows the same level of activity and implication than he did versus Costa Rica, then it’s safe to say that he’ll be polishing the benches in South Africa, and the team will not be worse off without him.

The French team has been in Tunisia since Thursday and all indicates that the team starting tonight will be the same as versus Costa Rica, minus Steve “Butterfinger” Mandanda for whom Lloris will take over so the Lyon goalkeeper can finally start working with the defense that is projected to be starting the cup. William Gallas, who spent 45 minutes jogging around versus Costa Rica, not showing much in the department of efforts and aggressiveness, should be tested for 60 minutes tonight in order to be able to play the full game versus China next Friday. The behavior of the back four will be one the main aspects to look at tonight, since they were pretty shaky on Wednesday. Costa Rica’s goal was analyzed by the staff, and Abidal and Gallas talked about it between each other in order to not let that happen again. As Abidal said, a World Cup is won and lost on small details, adding that he’d rather see the mistake happen in a preparation match, and that that’s what those games are for.

Second aspect, the choice of a 4-3-3 with Gourcuff and Malouda playing in front of Toulalan means that there are altogether 5 offensive-minded players. Granted, Jérémy Toulalan is one of the best “purely” defensive mids in the world but he can’t do everything on his own, and his two teammates need to learn to track back and provide assistance, something that will be especially important against Mexico, a very possession-oriented team. Tunisia likes to control the ball ; Malouda and Gourcuff will have an opportunity to work together and provide defensive cover for a defense that hasn’t been that reassuring as of lately.

Another observation from Wednesday’s game is that France’s game was heavily leaning on the left flank, that of Evra, Malouda, and Ribéry. Malouda, reconverted as a central midfielder, has the habit of sliding on the left, whereas Gourcuff remains more central, thus creating an imbalance of the team, Sagna and Govou having less ball-hogging tendencies. Domenech also noted that since the players kind of take possession of the ball from the beginning, it is natural for the ball to go to them more often. But the team needs to use both its flanks ; Govou had a good game and created a few dangerous opportunities on the right versus Costa Rica, is in top form and brimming with confidence with his new status.

Finally, will Anelka turn out to be France’s striker? There is a battle ongoing between him and Henry, that he seems to be winning so far. He has the tendency to bakctrack and ask for balls lower on the field when Domenech would like him to be multiplying runs for the ball, if possible behind the defense, in order to benefit from Gourcuff and Ribéry’s quality distribution. Anelka, like Gallas, might also play a little more than 45 minutes tonight.

As you can see, France is almost a new team than in the qualifiers and there are still things to work on for Domenech and his players.  The team is really confident, Abidal said that contrary to 2008, “no one is here to mess things up and kill the atmosphere” (he refused to name anyone) and another victory would go a long way towards success in South Africa. Note that the Tunisian players publicly announced that there would be no unnecessary tackles and roughness tonight ; they are well aware of what is at stake for the French players.

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One Response

  1. I’m surprised that none of the OM fans have knocked on you for the Steve Mandanda ‘nickname’ 🙂

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