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Les Bleus put World Cup blues behind them

July 05, 2014 00:14 IST

Les Bleus put World Cup blues behind them

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France may have been knocked out of yet another World Cup by nemesis Germany on Friday but restoring their image and rebuilding expectations ahead of Euro 2016 were even more important after their debacle in South Africa four years ago.

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The French failed once again to beat Germany at a major tournament and just as in 1982 and 1986 their neighbours advanced at their expense, this time following a 1-0 quarter-final defeat in Rio de Janeiro.

Yet it was far from an unsuccessful trip to Brazil for coach Didier Deschamps' team, especially given the setbacks before arriving in South America.

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Image: Ludivine Sagna, wife of Bacary Sagna of France
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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After their headline-grabbing mutiny in South Africa against then coach Raymond Domenech and verbal outbursts against a reporter at Euro 2012, France's top priority was to field a united team that their fans could embrace once again.

They almost did not make it to Brazil following a 2-0 playoff defeat by Ukraine in the first leg.

But a string of changes from coach Didier Deschamps and two goals from Mamadou Sakho beat the East Europeans 3-0 in the second leg to book a trip to Brazil.

Their biggest blow came before the tournament when 2013 European player of the year Franck Ribery was ruled out due to injury.

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Image: Elodie Mavuba, wife of Rio Mavuba of France in a sombre mood
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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But their campaign in Brazil got off to the best possible start with a 3-0 win over Honduras to put them in control of their group.

That was followed by a scintillating 5-2 demolition of Switzerland which instantly put the French among a select group of title contenders.

More importantly, however, it made fans at home like their team again, restoring confidence in their ability and teamwork.

Deschamps, who won the 1998 World Cup as a player and Euro 2000, had an iron grip on his players, even when there were questions about forward Karim Benzema's alleged sulking about his position on the left.

Deschamps, who suffered his first World Cup defeat as player or coach on Friday, shrugged them off.

"You are not teaching me anything new here by saying that," he said.

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Image: France's Karim Benzema (front) reacts beside teammate Olivier Giroud to their loss after their 2014 World Cup quarter-finals against Germany at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Charles Platiau/Reuters

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A goalless draw against Ecuador completed a positive group stage and set up a round of 16 clash against Nigeria.

Forward Benzema again started on the wing but as France struggled against the physical Nigerians, Deschamps did what most France fans wanted to see do from the start.

He brought on winger Antoine Griezmann, allowing Benzema to slip back into his favoured role in the centre of attack and the move paid off as two late goals sent France into the quarter-finals to face arch-rivals Germany.

Semi-final defeats at the 1982 and 1986 tournaments counted for nothing, Deschamps said before the game, but his team, lacking a natural leader in the mould of Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane, did not have the firepower to trouble the Germans.

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Image: Paul Pogba of France and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany compete for the ball
Photographs: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

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Left back Patrice Evra, at 33, could do little to contain the speedy Germans and did even less in inspiring his team forward for an equaliser.

"We had our chances but they had more experience than we did," Deschamps told reporters. "The difference wasn’t that big today between us and Germany. But they advanced.”

With hugely-gifted 21-year-old Paul Pogba, Griezmann, Sakho and other young players getting experience on the world stage, France should be returning home with their heads held high.

They have every right to be confident about the next major tournament, the 2016 European Championship on home soil.


Image: Laurent Koscielny,left, consoles Mathieu Debuchy of France after being defeated by Germany 1-0
Photographs: Martin Rose/Getty Images

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