Of all the teams arriving in Brazil with question marks over them, France began the journey with one of the heaviest loads. The long shadows cast by the events in South Africa meant that Les Bleus couldn’t just arrive at the tournament and win games, as most expected them to, having been handed one of the potentially easiest groups of the tournament from a European perspective.
No, Didier Deschamps squad had to win, win convincingly, and win with smiles on their faces. Against the Swiss, the smiles were so wide and confident that the French allowed two goals and all who witnessed it still considered it one of the most comprehensive wins of the tournament so far.
The much lauded Swiss defense was cut to pieces by the counter attacking power of France, time and again left charging into space to create chance after chance. Not just a bunch of athletic pace merchants, there was some exquisite passing, control, and dribbling from all parts of the pitch. With the exception of their defense (Raphael Varane, ahem), this squad features some of the most well-rounded modern footballers in Brazil.
Six points from two games, the French are one game away from becoming the 3rd group winner to win with maximum points, joining the intimidating company of Netherlands and Colombia. Their goal difference means that only the unlikeliest scenarios would see them go through second in the group. Still, do not expect Deschamps to allow his players to take their collective foot off the gas. A born leader, Deschamps knows the value that momentum, focus, and confidence bring to the cruel world of tournament football.
With no serious injury concerns, I would expect to see a largely unchanged side from the XI that faced the Swiss. After what many presumed was a time out for his petulance against Honduras, Pogba should be back along side Blaise Matuidi. In a move that was in no way pre-meditated, Yohan Cabaye earned his second yellow against Switzerland and will sit out this game. I’d expect to see Morgan Schneiderlin come in since he’s got the experience working as a defensive midfielder in a system that values quick passing and fluid positioning.
Even before the groups were drawn, there were never huge expectations for Ecuador. Aside from being infamous as one of world football’s most grueling away games, La Tri have been a side best described as functional. They have one general plan for winning a game, just enough quality players to make it a possibility, and enough determination to push to the final whistle.
It helps that Ecuador is fielding one of the most in-form strikers of the tournament. Enner Valencia has taken over, for now, the mantle of the Valencia star that first comes to mind when thinking about La Tri. With excellent service from Jefferson Montero and skipper Antonio Valencia, the Valencia star leading the line just cannot stop scoring. Currently on a run of six goals in six games, if Ecuador are going to pip the Swiss to second place, Enner Valencia’s name will definitely be on the score sheet.
Valencia & Montero vs Debuchy & Evra
Ecuador’s game is all about getting it wide and racing for the byline. France’s 4-3-3 doesn’t depend as much on the fullbacks for width, but both still like to contribute when they can. The French will need their wide men to stay sharp and it should be fun to see club team mates Evra and Valencia go toe to toe in what will likely be their last World Cup.
Erazo & Guagua vs. Giroud
It’s safe to say Oliver Giroud startled people with his performance against the Swiss. Since his arrival in England the doubters have been out in force but this tournament could be the moment his game hits another level. If going for the win Ecuador usually go for a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. The full back spend a lot of time in the opposition half and the two center backs are often left totally isolated. Neither Ecuadorian center back is particularly gifted and I expect them to be in for a long shift dealing with the movement of Benzema and Valbuena while having to contain physical presence of an extremely confident Giroud.
If the Ecuadorians really go all out for the win, this could be a very fun game but in all likelihood another dominate French victory is on the cards.