France v Costa Rica, International Friendly, May 26, 2010
France have had a trying few years. After bombing out of Euro 2008 without a win, incredibly the guillotine never fell on coach Raymond Domenech’s head despite public opinion being firmly against the Les Bleus coach.
Throughout his tenure in charge of Les Bleus, Domenech has been accused for his lack of leadership and having a difficult personality, while being criticised for his reported astrology-inspired selections and non-selections, his complete indifference of his players towards him, and overall poor man management skills. Simultaneously, France lived every breathing moment of the 2010 World Cup qualification on a perpetual tightrope, always seemingly just a draw or a goal away from being ousted.
Then there was accusation that the French cheated their way to the finals courtesy of Thierry Henry’s infamous double handball that allowed William Gallas to knock out the unlucky Irish.
And questions over the players selected in Domenech’s squad also still linger. Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Marseille’s Haten ben Arfa are the three big omissions from the World Cup party, and many believe that their absences will cost France dear in South Africa.
But all that will be put to one side on Wednesday night when the Tricolor is raised as Costa Rica come to town. Focus now is homed in on the glaringÂ deficiencies in midfield after the withdrawal of Lassana Diarra through injury, and the touch-and-go availability of defenders William Gallas and Sebastien Squillaci at the heart of the French defence.
While flagging up all the negatives engulfing the French squad, it is important not to play down the quality that is available at their disposal.
Hugo Lloris has had a terrific 12 months in goal for Lyon and looks like one of the standout goalies of his generation. The defence is further filled out with a host of world class stars including Premier League trio Patrice Evra, Gael Clichy and Bakary Sagna while elder statesman Eric Abidal brings the experience into the mix.
Throughout qualifying Domenech opted to play with two holding midfielders, but now that Diarra has pulled out of the squad we wait to see if the French will adopt a more attacking style. Jeremy Toulalan, Abou Diaby and Alou Diarra will all be battling it out for the central positions in the side, while further forward Les Bleus are spoiled for options.
Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff are two playmakers most nations would beg to have, while Chelsea duo Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka need to fight with Thierry Henry, Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac for places in the attack.
Whether France will be able to get the blend right against Costa Rica wont be easy as the Central Americans have a squad complete with several quality players of their own.
Saprissa, the domestic Costa Rican league leaders, supply the squad with the bulk of their rearguard, while further up the pitch the nations foreign exports fill most of the key positions. In particular Christian Bolanos, who plays for Norway’s IK Start, has the talent to win a match all on his own (see here), while Melbourne Victory’s Carlos Hernandez is always a threat from 20-yards out (see here and here).
The main threat in the Costa Rican team though is FC Twente’s Bryan Ruiz. The striker has just completed a sensational season winning the Dutch Eredivisie under Steve McClaren, scoring 27 goals and contributing seven assists in 46 appearances this season.
Ruiz is a poacher through and through. He stands at 6 ft 1inch and is excellent in the air, he is capable of scoring with his head and with either foot, although he is predominantly left footed. He is also a predator in the penalty area. Ruiz will fight and battle defenders in the box as he seeks to get that all important toe poke or ricochet off a defender to enable him to score. He is also a scorer of flashy goals, and all-in-all he can cause the French real problems at the back.
With so many black clouds hanging over Les Bleus, the French need to boost morale and prove to themselves that they can win the World Cup – all of which will be helped with a convincing win over Costa Rica. Should the visitors arrive all guns blazing though, it could be another difficult night for Domenech and his troops.
101predicts: France 2 – Costa Rica 2