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France begins what many would describe as a “tainted” World Cup campaign this Friday when they take on fellow group A constituents Uruguay at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. With Les Bleus turning in several dismal performances in their friendly campaign and Uruguay on the rise, this is one of the most intriguing matches of the groups stage. Can Diego Forlán and Las Charrúas utilize their brash attacking style or will Ribery, Henry, and Anelka rally to exploit the vulnerable Uruguayan defense?
Of course, the story of France’s run at this year’s World Cup will be overshadowed by the controversial “Henry Handball” that enabled the Frenchmen to qualify at the expense of a well deserving Ireland squad. However, instead of revisiting that horrifying event that got them to South Africa, I’m going to focus on what I feel is a more pressing issue and that is their absolutely horrific play in recent weeks leading up. The fact of the matter is they have been extremely disappointing in their friendly campaign leading up to South Africa and it cannot sit well with Raymond Domenech, no matter what he says. Since their controversial Ireland second leg, France (in succession) lost 2-0 to Spain, came from behind to defeat Costa Rica 2-1, drew a meager Tunisia 1-1, and capped all that off with a remarkable 1-0 loss to China. Now I don’t know about you but that is simply unacceptable for the 2006 runners up if they have any aspirations to make another run this summer. I know we must careful to not look too far into these tune up matches as players attempt to get fit and coaches experiment with various tactics and lineups but all things considered, France should have handled these teams with ease with the exception of Spain. With all thing being said, there is still plenty of talent to be had. France boasts one of the most solid defensive groups in the world, led by Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, and plenty of experience in the attack and midfield. Their scoring attack is led by veterans Nicholas Anelka and Thierry Henry and they are followed by two of the best attacking midfielders in the world in Yoann Gourcuff and Franck Ribéry. Ribéry in particular has been the lone bright spot for France in their recent matches and if he can stay out of injury trouble, he will give them a chance to score all match long as he presses up the right side. Futhermore, Henry is notorious for playing best on big stages and despite being toward the end of his career, you can never count him out. Bottom line, if France doesn’t make it out of the group or even to the quarterfinals, there will be a new manager in France.
Uruguay, much like the rest of the teams from South America, are one of those teams that nobody wants to play. Their attack minded philosophy can be extremely dangerous and enable them to make a run if they are able to escape the group stage. They scored the 3rd most goals in CONMEBOL qualification campaign and many of those can be accredited to the consistency and well rounded game of hitman Diego Forlán. The Atletico Madrid forward has it all, able to beat with you with his speed, his leg, or in the air. Accompanying him in the pursuit is speedster Luis Suárez and 6? 4? header specialist Sebastián Abréu. Manager Oscar Tabárez has been known to deploy all 3 in the past with a 4-3-3 but it is unknown if he will do the same in South Africa which brings us to the problem with Uruguay. The back. Their uncanny desire to press forward often leaves them rather vulnerable to the counter attack and with their marginal defensive midfielders, fullbacks, and keeper, that could serve as the dagger, no matter how many goals they manage to score. One person who could have changed that perception a bit and provided some leadership in the middle is Cristian Rodriguez but after the whistle of their second leg against Argentina in the qualification playoff, he let his frustration out on a Argentinean player and as a result will be suspended for 2 Cup games. Too bad cause surely they could use him.