France under pressure before Mexico
Defender Patrice Evra says France must beat Mexico in its next World Cup match to avoid having ``an enormous amount of pressure'' when it faces South Africa in the final group game.
Coach Raymond Domenech's predictable tactics and France's listless attack could not overcome a Uruguay side reduced to ten men in the second half, and the game ended 0-0 on Friday. France missed the chance to take control of Group A following South Africa's 1-1 draw with Mexico.
France has now failed to score in the opening match of a major tournament three straight times, and Evra - France's captain - sees Thursday's match as crucial.
``It will be a good game because both teams will have to win,'' Evra said. ``We don't want to go into our last game having to beat the home side on their turf.
``It's a game that you have to win if you want to be a bit more relaxed for the final game,'' Evra said. ``That's why I'm a bit frustrated because when you see South Africa's result against Mexico. We could have pulled ahead.''
France reached the World Cup final four years ago after drawing its opening match, but that team had playmaker Zinedine Zidane and striker Thierry Henry, who is now past his prime and was only used as a substitute Friday.
The current French side is unable to break down teams that, like Uruguay, pack midfield and defend deep. France had the same problem when it drew 0-0 against Romania in its opening match at the European Championship two years ago.
Domenech may start Henry against Mexico. The Barcelona forward looked sharp when he came on in the second half, and he offers an extra option with his skill and awareness.
``We know that when we play teams, they keep their shape and don't give us any space - and we need space to play, so we have to be patient,'' said France winger Florent Malouda, who also started on the bench. ``We are better when we put more pace into the game, and there weren't enough moments of high intensity against Uruguay.''
Aside from squandering an early chance when Sidney Govou missed from close range, France created little and its key players were disappointing.
Nicolas Anelka struggled up front, dropping deep and even getting in Govou's way when Abou Diaby finally opened up the Uruguay defense. Franck Ribery looked isolated in midfield and did little to justify his reputation as one of the world's best playmakers.
``We didn't have the finishing touch,'' Domenech said. ``We need to score goals.''
Where those goals are going to come from is a mystery. France has become a team that is easy to defend against, and one that offers little threat from free kicks and long-range shots.
Anelka has never been a great header of the ball, but when France ran out of options, it simply lumped the ball up in the air to him. Anelka is more effective when the ball is played behind the defense, allowing him to use his pace and run into space.
Former France midfielder Emmanuel Petit said France's players ``were unable to accelerate the play with short passes and one-twos'' and too many seemed to play as individuals.
``The players have to stop thinking that they are, and stop playing like they are, the savior of the team,'' Petit wrote for L'Equipe. ``Winning will come about through teamwork.''
Domenech also continues to make confusing selections.
Although Abou Diaby justified his selection ahead of Malouda by performing well in midfield, his link play with teammates would have been enhanced if he had been given more playing time in the warmup matches - where he was used sparingly as a substitute.
Domenech also kept Govou on for 85 minutes even though the Lyon winger faded badly in the second half, bringing on the younger and fresher Andre-Pierre Gignac for only a few minutes. Gignac is a center forward, but Domenech played him as a winger, even though he had Mathieu Valbuena - who plays on the right wing for Marseille - available on the bench.
The fact Mexico also needs to win Thursday's game means Domenech's team may finally have the space it craves to be able to open teams up.
``We're lacking something in the final third,'' Diaby said.