The first thing to say here is that Mexico were excellent. Bright, busy and with bagfuls of talent they are an exciting side and thoroughly deserve to qualify from this group. And yet, there is no doubt the story tonight is the demise of the 2006 finalists France. They were horrible. So much talent, so many big names, but France just never looked right in this World Cup. In truth, they haven’t looked right for the best part of four years. No team spirit, players not working for themselves or each other, rumours of dissention in the ranks seemingly proven true by events on the pitch.
It is hard to expand on the tactical problems of the French team when frankly it is a side issue given the lack of unity quite rightly highlighted as the key issue by Clarence Seedorf and Roy Hodgson on the BBC. Moreover, whilst Domenech’s selection has been queried, there was nothing too outlandish in the much-maligned coach’s team selection. Top-rated keeper. Arsenal right-back and centre-back, Man Utd left-back and Barcelona’s Eric Abidal. Two holding midfielders. Malouda, Ribery and Govou in behind Nic Anelka, a man accustomed to playing the lone role up front. Of course, it isn’t ideal – Ribery is happier playing from the left. Govou has been struggling. Anelka now seems to insist on going walkabout for no apparent reason and Eric Abidal is more comfortable at full-back than in the middle. Even so, if ever there was a case of a team being less than the sum of their parts then this was it.
One thing that can be said is that the goal was coming. Rafael Marquez is not the player he was, having lost a yard of pace since his pomp, but if you give him a plethora of willing runners and time and space to pick a pass then you’re asking for trouble:
In the above image, William Gallas has been sucked in and is caught out on the turn while Bacary Sagna & Eric Abidal are far too slow to see the danger and thus compound the problem, effectively leaving three men racing onto Marquez’s throughball. Toulalan & Diaby, the French midfielders (marked in blue), are out of the game – neither tracking runners nor closing down Marquez in possession.
France were not punished on that occasion but Javier Hernandez put them out of their misery in the second half:
For the first Mexican goal, Marquez was again able to loft a ball over the top to willing runners, this time as the static French defence attempted to hold a high line. Once again, the enthusiastic running of the Mexicans was in stark contrast to the lethargic closing down of the French side.
France look set to go home and quite rightly so given their performances thus far. No spirit. No organisation. And now, no hope.