Les Bleus look to repeat ’98 feat with three Group wins
RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — If France beat Ecuador in today's Group E match, it will be the first time they have won all three group games in a major competition since 1998 — the year they went on to win the World Cup on home soil.
This kind of talk worries France coach Didier Deschamps, who captained the side in '98 and who has been trying to play down the growing hype after his team's 5-2 thumping of Switzerland last Friday.
French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet has joined Deschamps in trying to quell rising expectations back home, saying Sunday that "things are going quicker than I'd imagined. I think a bit too quickly and there's a little bit of excess".
Anything but a win against Ecuador will be seen as disappointing, however, considering how France have started the tournament with such attacking intent — scoring eight goals in two games after opening with a 3-0 win over Honduras.
But Deschamps is wary of dismissing Ecuador, given how the World Cup is becoming such a wide-open tournament.
"Who would think that Costa Rica would have six points, in the group they're in? No one," he said, pointing to Costa Rica's surprise wins against 2010 World Cup semi-finalist Uruguay and 2006 winner Italy. "I saw the match between Netherlands and Australia and there really wasn't much in it. Other teams have been doing well here, not just us."
A draw is enough to guarantee top spot for France, and would also send Ecuador through to the next round if Switzerland fail to beat Honduras in the other match.
Ecuador and Switzerland have three points each, but Ecuador has a better goal difference — although they are likely to face a far more severe test against a French attack featuring Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud, who both scored and created goals against the Swiss.
"The way to read it is that we're going to have a lot of work," Ecuador centre-half Frickson Erazo said.
France have scored 39 goals in 11 games, including 16 in the past three having thumped Jamaica 8-0 before boarding the plane to Brazil.
"They scored eight goals in one match," midfielder Christian Noboa said. "Scoring a goal in a World Cup is difficult, scoring eight gives you a guide to what France are all about."
However, France's defence looked shaky late on against the Swiss after centre-half Mamadou Sakho limped off and Les Bleus conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes.
"We lost our concentration and you pay the price at this level," right-back Mathieu Debuchy said. "Of course it's annoying to concede goals, but you work on it and we'll try and fix it quickly."
The powerful, direct running of Enner Valencia could cause France problems. The 24-year-old forward has scored three goals so far — like Benzema — and has five in four games after netting in pre-tournament friendly games against Mexico and England.
Deschamps is sweating on the fitness of Sakho and Raphael Varane, who both sat out Sunday's team training session. Sakho has a thigh problem and Varane missed training because of gastroenteritis. Laurent Koscielny and Eliaquim Mangala are the back-up centre halves.
Deschamps has intensified competition for places in his side, surprisingly dropping Giroud for the opening game, with Antoine Griezmann replacing him, and then restoring a fired-up Giroud to the line-up against Switzerland. He also left out coveted midfielder Paul Pogba against the Swiss, with Moussa Sissoko taking his place and scoring his first international goal.
"The coach often says that everyone has a part to play," Sissoko said. "There were two changes (against Switzerland) and there may be more in the next match."
Although Deschamps may rotate his team, Debuchy is in no mood for a rest.
"We're at the World Cup. I want to play in every game," he said. "The coach knows me well enough to know that."