France must take Ukraine spirit to Brazil
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
France's players celebrate after winning the 2014 World Cup qualifying play-off second leg football match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on November 19, 2013. AFP PhotoFrance must keep the mental attitude that helped them overturn a two-goal deficit to qualify for the World Cup if they are to avoid another poor display at a major tournament when they arrive in Brazil next year.
Didier Deschamps's team showed will and resolve to beat Ukraine 3-0 in their playoff second leg on Tuesday to claim a 3-2 aggregate win that triggered a rare moment of unity between the players and the usually grumpy Stade de France crowd.
Striker Olivier Giroud grabbed the public announcer's microphone and started singing La Marseillaise with his team mates and the fans who had stayed longer than usual after the final whistle.
France looked transformed after being second-best to Ukraine in all departments in an embarrassing 2-0 defeat in Kiev last Friday.
"The players have the qualities. Unfortunately, we are struggling to keep that state of mind through time," Deschamps told reporters. "But when we have it, we are competitive."
France's recent soccer history is a cautionary tale.
Since reaching the 2006 World Cup final, Les Bleus failed to get past the group stage at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup before reaching the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, with their efforts often affected by problems off the pitch.
In the last three major tournament finals, France have only won one game, against Ukraine last year.
Karim Benzema, however, was beaming as he looked forward to the June 12-July 13 tournament.
"We showed we are a great team. Now we can go very far," he told reporters.
"Respect" read the headline in sports daily L'Equipe, while daily Liberation declared "Rio, Bravo" on its front page.
Even though Les Bleus have been a major disappointment to their fans in recent years, there appears room for optimism as Deschamps looks to build on a talented new generation.
In central defence, the Raphael Varane-Mamadou Sakho pairing is reminiscent of the Laurent Blanc-Marcel Desailly combination that helped France win the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
Their calmness and strength should help the team weather the attacking storms they will encounter in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Paul Pogba has proved to be the missing link between the defensive midfielders and the forwards, with the 20-year-old also having an eye for goal. Rarely have all those qualities been blended into a single French international.
Somehow Juventus's Pogba reflects the national team - a mixture of talent and nonchalance as Deschamps pointed out.
"Like Varane, he is among the interesting young players we have," said the France coach. "He's physically impressive, powerful and technically gifted. He likes to go forward. Things look so easy for him. But he can be complacent.
"However he is a warrior," Deschamps added.
With FIFA Ballon d'Or hopeful Franck Ribery shaking up defences and creating chances, France just need to find successors to Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet in attack unless Karim Benzema can finally prove his worth.