Friday, July 04, 2014 12:18 pm
Hyped France attack fails to deliver at World Cup
The 1998 champions lacked conviction going forward Friday after missing two early opportunities and eventually lost to Germany 1-0.
"You need a bit of luck and a bit of sharpness. Maybe it didn't come down to much but that is the highest level for you," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "We found ourselves in situations where we could have created other chances, but we didn't have the experience you need in situations like that."
Karim Benzema, who scored three goals in France's opening two matches, didn't score for the third straight game. He had a chance to equalize in injury time, but Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer blocked his shot after he had played an excellent one-two with substitute Olivier Giroud.
A dejected Benzema sat slumped in despair after the final whistle, while forward Antoine Griezmann had to be comforted as he burst into tears.
After winning the Champions League last season with Real Madrid, and with 71 international appearances to his name, Benzema has little excuse. He should have done much better in the eighth minute, volleying casually wide when Mathieu Valbuena had set him up with a chipped pass from the left. Three minutes later, Griezmann failed to pick him out near the penalty spot after breaking down the left.
They proved costly misses as, moments later, Mats Hummels scored for Germany and France found itself trailing in a match for the first time since losing 2-0 to Ukraine in the first leg of the World Cup playoffs in November.
Benzema scored in the return leg against Ukraine, which France won 3-0 to qualify for the World Cup, but this time could not add to his 24 international goals. Shortly before halftime, he showed the frustrating side to his game, controlling a high ball with a brilliant first touch but then shooting tamely at Neuer after bursting past two defenders with ease.
Benzema's reluctance to go in for challenges also worked against France, with Benzema losing almost every 50-50 challenge as the German defenders easily muscled him off the ball.
"We were constantly trying to step on their toes all the way from the back and we were able to limit Benzema's chances," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "Valbuena and Griezmann have great speed going forward, so I thought Jerome (Boateng) and Mats could solve that problem."
Germany marshalled France's forwards well, but the warning signs about France's attack were already apparent in the last two games.
Although France had scored 28 goals in nine games heading into the match at Maracana Stadium, it had looked lackluster in the previous two matches: a 0-0 draw against Ecuador and a 2-0 win over Nigeria in the second round.
Even against Nigeria, the attack failed to click and France needed late goals to advance — one from midfielder Paul Pogba and the other an own-goal.
On Friday, the 23-year-old Griezmann's inexperience showed against a mature German defense that was tempting France by playing a high line.
"I chose Antoine because we needed speed and liveliness," Deschamps said, explaining why he picked Griezmann over the more muscular Giroud, who came on in the 85th minute.
France only carved open Germany's defense in the final seconds when Giroud and Benzema swapped passes inside the area.
The goals, however, never came.