Abou Diaby rare light in for France
Abou Diaby's commanding performance in the center of midfield against Uruguay was the only bright spot for a sloppy France team in its uninspiring opening match at the World Cup.
The 24-year-old Arsenal player stood out in a tense and scrappy 0-0 draw on Friday with his skill, touch, movement and passing, and his performance was surprisingly accomplished for someone making only his sixth international appearance.
With France longing for a player to step in and fill the midfield void left by Patrick Vieira's absence, Diaby has been given the chance to inspire France's turnaround at the World Cup.
Diaby, one of Arsenal's best players this season, drew early comparisons with Vieira because of his height, his thin, angular frame and his stamina and powerful running when he joined the Gunners from Auxerre in January, 2006.
``It's very flattering for me because Vieira is a great player,'' Diaby said on Saturday. ``He's someone who has achieved a lot in football and it's an honor to be compared to him.''
France has never been quite the same team since Zinedine Zidane retired after the World Cup final defeat to Italy four years ago, and Vieira's succession of niggling injuries limited him to only 13 international appearances since that final.
Without those two, France lacks both strength and craft in midfield.
Jeremy Toulalan works hard but creates little, and Yoann Gourcuff is still largely ineffective at international level despite flashes of skill and the occasional dangerous free kick.
Diaby pushed forward against Uruguay, and protected his defense with a couple of headed clearances.
``It worked well defensively between the midfielders, but we have to improve on the attacking front,'' he said.
Diaby finally started to fulfill his promise for Arsenal this season, scoring six league goals in 29 games for Arsene Wenger's team, and flourishing alongside Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
Diaby also showed he could play almost a whole season without injury. He fractured his right ankle early in his Arsenal career, an eight-month setback followed by further ankle and calf problems.
``I made a lot of effort to come back,'' he said. ``I did a specific muscle strengthening program, and this helped me to play a lot of games this season.''
Diaby kept believing he would make it in the physically demanding Premier League, despite his frailty.
``I persevered a lot, I had a lot of hard times and it wasn't easy for me. But that helped me to be a lot stronger mentally,'' he said. ``I had no doubts about choosing (Arsenal). I believed in myself and thought it would go well for me, and I think it pretty much has.''