Posts Tagged ‘Karim Benzema’

Analysis: France firing blanks as Spain loom into view

“Karim Benzema is still to score in the [Didier] Deschamps era, but he and Franck Ribéry often appear the only players capable of making things happen in the final third. The Real Madrid striker could have scored three or four goals against Japan before being withdrawn at half-time, while Ribéry tested [Eiji] Kawashima twice within minutes of entering the fray as a 68th-minute substitute. As L’Equipe drily noted on Saturday, “without Benzema and Ribery, nothing much happens”.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on France’s misfiring forwards, ahead of Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier with Spain in Madrid. You can read it here.

Reaction: France reflect on what might have been

DONETSK, Ukraine – France’s players admitted to frustration after failing to turn their dominance into victory against England in their Euro 2012 opener but took heart from their reaction to falling behind.”

My reaction piece on France’s 1-1 draw with England on Monday can be read here.

Blanc’s France still searching for an identity

For a team protecting an unbeaten record that now stretches to 543 days, France will approach Wednesday night’s friendly against Germany in Bremen with a surprising degree of uncertainty.

Since going down 1-0 at home to Belarus in Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge in September 2010, France have qualified for Euro 2012 – without recourse to the play-offs – and enjoyed friendly wins over England, Brazil and the United States (as well as some forgettable draws against Croatia, Chile and Belgium).

Viewed from the outside, and against a backdrop of the self-inflicted humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, Les Bleus are turning things around. Bubbling beneath the statistics, however, are a multitude of concerns about the team’s style of play and a lack of both experience and leadership within the squad, while an ongoing contract dispute between Blanc and French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët suggests Blanc’s employers remain to be convinced by the direction the team is taking.

Blanc pledged to introduced panache and risk-taking to France’s football following his appointment in the aftermath of the infamous Knysna training ground mutiny, but although France have become solid and difficult to beat, their play has not captured the imagination since the first game of their current 17-match unbeaten run – a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo that came four days after the setback against Belarus.

Then, a team anchored by a midfield pairing of Yann M’Vila and Alou Diarra, driven forward by the lolloping raids of Abou Diaby and centred around the new-found efficacy of Karim Benzema had hinted at a glorious future for Blanc’s France. Now, although Benzema has gone from strength to strength at Real Madrid, the team has lost its way.

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French football quotes of the year 2011

L’Entente Cordiale

“They say it’s because I’m a sexy boy. The English are crazy!”
Yohan Cabaye, on the ‘Dreamboat’ nickname bestowed upon him by Newcastle’s fans

“Behind the ‘big guns’ like Chelsea or Manchester [United], there’s also Sunderland or Wolverhampton. French players who are used to getting on the ball end up watching it fly over their heads for 90 minutes.”
– Marseille sporting director José Anigo has some words of advice for any budding Ligue 1 talents dreaming of plying their trade in the Premier League

“If you want us to just stick it in the box like I’ve seen Stoke City do, you’ll have to change the coach. I forbid it.”
– Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti shares his thoughts on the football doctrine advocated by Tony Pulis

“Without wanting to be unkind, it’s difficult when there are only four of you defending. Sometimes you feel like you’re on your own. When you watch Barça, everyone defends – even Messi!”
Laurent Koscielny feels a bit exposed in the Arsenal back four

“Sometimes I tell jokes and Joe Cole and I look at each other and we’re the only ones laughing.”
Vincent Enyeama on the language barrier in the Lille changing room

“Bon match pour… my team – mon équipe – et… I’m very happy!”
– Ambushed by Canal+’s touchline reporter Laurent Paganelli, Joe Cole has a stab at his first interview in the language of his new homeland after Lille’s 3-1 win over Lyon

Banter

“Once again I’m attacked by Jean-Michel Larqué. I hope with all my heart I don’t end up like him after my career, but there’s no chance of that because I’m not an idiot.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot has a pop at 63-year-old television pundit Jean-Michel Larqué, who had criticised him for letting in two late goals at Lens

“Your mum.”
Aly Cissokho’s considered response to a supporter who told him to “go and join Arles-Avignon” during a Lyon training session in April

“Although the score was already 3-0, he’d been taking the piss out of us with the ball for a few minutes, dribbling past his opponent and then waiting so he could dribble past him again. It’s a lack of respect. Even his Lille team-mates said he was going too far.”
– Nancy captain André Luiz takes a dim view of Eden Hazard’s showboating

“Marseille come up to Paris to fuck PSG!”
– Microphone in hand, match-winner Taye Taiwo gets a bit carried away during the Coupe de la Ligue post-match celebrations by leading the OM fans in a chorus of one of their favourite chants

“It was a good response to people who don’t know football. It’ll make them shut their big mouths.”
Modibo Maiga relishes his brace in a 3-0 defeat of Toulouse after stumbling into the viewfinder of the Sochaux boo boys

“At that moment, I told myself that they’d gone mad and didn’t realise. Today I know that I was wrong: they knew exactly what they were doing. They even closed the curtains on the bus to hide themselves from the cameras… With hindsight, I see them above all as a bunch of thoughtless brats.”
Raymond Domenech is still struggling to let go of the 2010 World Cup

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Pitchside Europe: Does Higuaín cramp Ronaldo’s style?

“The statistics over the last two seasons add weight to the theory that Ronaldo is more inclined to adopt the role of a creator – and suppress his own goalscoring instincts – when Higuaín is in the team. Since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, Ronaldo has started 39 league games alongside Higuaín, scoring 40 goals at a rate of 1.03 per game. Over the same period, Ronaldo’s goals-per-game ratio when he starts alongside Benzema is slightly higher, at 1.125. The assist figures tell a similar story. With Benzema next to him at kick-off, Ronaldo produces an average of 0.25 assists per match. Alongside Higuaín, that figure climbs to 0.41.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport can be read here.

ESPN Soccernet: Benzema ready to flourish at Real

“The patience from which Benzema has benefited at Real may owe something to the influence of Zinedine Zidane in the corridors of power at the Bernabeu, and it is to Zidane that thoughts most readily turn when Benzema is on his game. There is a thoughtful deliberateness and a sinewy elegance to Benzema that recalls Zidane at his most beguiling, right down to the way the younger man cajoles the ball with the outside of his foot when in possession.”

My latest piece for ESPN Soccernet, on how Karim Benzema has managed to turn things around at Real Madrid, can be read here.

La semaine en France: Week 24

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Having managed to avoid defeat since a 3-1 loss at home to Marseille in Week 10, Lille’s resistance finally buckled when they fell to a 1-0 loss in a scrappy and otherwise unremarkable game at Montpellier last Sunday.

Moroccan starlet Younes Belhanda scored the game’s only goal in the 84th minute, charging at the retreating Lille defence from the right flank, circumventing Adil Rami’s impromptu war dance on the edge of the box and drilling a deflected shot into the bottom-left corner. To make matters worse for Lille, all their title rivals won.

Rennes are now just two points off the pace in second place following a 2-1 win at Toulouse, while Marseille, Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain are all within four points of the leaders. Marseille moved up to third place by beating Saint-Etienne 2-1 in a fractious affair at the Vélodrome, but the night ended on a sour note for the champions after André-Pierre Gignac had to go off with a groin injury that ruled him out of the Champions League match with Manchester United.

Lyon and PSG remain level on points in fourth and fifth place respectively after both enjoyed one-sided victories. Lyon ran out 4-0 victors at home to Nancy on Friday night, while PSG outclassed Nice 3-0 on Sunday.

The week’s most eye-catching result was Bordeaux’s 5-1 capitulation at Lorient (after a tidy hat-trick from Kévin Gameiro), which prompted Bordeaux coach Jean Tigana to admit that the 2009 champions are now officially in crisis. There were red cards for Lorient full-back Franco Sosa and Bordeaux goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso – who was sent off for twice handling the ball outside his area – while Sochaux’s 3-2 win at Lens also finished with 10 men on each side after Toifilou Maoulida and Kévin Anin both saw red following a first-half tête-à-tête.

Ligue 1 results
Friday: Lyon 4-0 Nancy; Saturday: Auxerre 1-1 Arles-Avignon, Brest 2-0 Monaco, Caen 2-2 Valenciennes, Lens 2-3 Sochaux, Marseille 2-1 Saint-Etienne, Lorient 5-1 Bordeaux; Sunday: Montpellier 1-0 Lille, Nice 0-3 PSG, Toulouse 1-2 Rennes

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Report: Lyon old boy Benzema gives Real Madrid edge

“LYON, France — Karim Benzema scored against his former club Lyon to earn Real Madrid a 1-1 draw here on Tuesday that puts them in a strong position to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.”

My AFP match report can be read here.

La semaine en France: Week 22

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Dariusz Dudka’s 86th-minute equaliser in Auxerre’s 1-1 draw at home to Lille last Sunday may ultimately prove to be nothing more than a footnote to the Ligue 1 season, but Lille will know that it could very well become one of the goals that defines the title race.

Had Lille held onto the lead earned by Moussa Sow’s sublime overhead bicycle kick early in the first half, they would have finished the weekend seven points clear at the top of the table. Sow’s inattention at a late free-kick allowed Dudka to spring the offside trap, however, and give the chasing pack fresh hope that Lille may yet stumble in the home straight.

It was a weekend of false starts for the title pretenders. Paris Saint-Germain remain second, but a 1-0 loss at Rennes prevented them from capitalising on Dudka’s helping hand. Yacine Brahimi scored the only goal, leaving Claude Makelele for dust and firing into the bottom-right corner, as Rennes put the 5-1 drubbing at Sochaux and their Coupe de France upset against Reims squarely behind them.

Marseille are a point behind PSG and Rennes in fourth, but their 1-0 win at home to rock bottom Arles-Avignon was a wretched affair that will have inspired little confidence as Manchester United loom on the horizon in the Champions League. The fare was better at Lyon-Bordeaux on Sunday night but there were no goals, as OL dropped three places to sixth and Les Girondins fell to ninth.

With Dimitri Payet cast out to the reserves, an Emmanuel Rivière brace gave Saint-Etienne a 2-1 win at Montpellier that lifted the 10-time champions above Lyon into fifth place on goals scored ahead of Saturday’s second Derby du Rhône of the season. Moussa Sissoko was also on target twice as Toulouse sank Monaco 2-0.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Brest 2-1 Nancy, Caen 0-2 Lorient, Lens 1-1 Valenciennes, Marseille 1-0 Arles-Avignon, Montpellier 1-2 Saint-Etienne, Nice 1-0 Sochaux, Rennes 1-0 PSG; Sunday: Auxerre 1-1 Lille, Toulouse 2-0 Monaco, Lyon 0-0 Bordeaux.

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Report: Benzema on the mark as France beat 10-man Brazil

“PARIS — Laurent Blanc’s regeneration of the French national team continued apace on Wednesday as his side defeated 10-man Brazil 1-0 in a friendly match at the Stade de France.”

Read my AFP match report here.

La semaine en France: Week 16

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Just as Marseille looked to be gathering momentum, a setback arrived in the form of a 1-0 defeat at Nice. Little matter that OM dominated the game at the home of their Mediterranean near neighbours. They barely created a chance of note and were punished in the second minute of injury time when former Reading man Emerse Faé side-footed home unmarked from Anthony Mounier’s cut-back.

Defeat saw Marseille drop to fourth, a point behind Rennes and Paris Saint-Germain and two shy of leaders Lille, who rompted to the top of the table – and the scoring charts – with a scarcely credible 6-3 annihiliation of Lorient. The game, postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to snow, was chiefly remarkable for a perfect hat-trick from in-form Moussa Sow (see below), but Kévin Gameiro was unfortunate to finish on the losing side after claiming a smartly taken brace.

Rennes won 1-0 at home to Monaco on Saturday and PSG joined them on 27 points a day later by beating Brest 3-1. Nenê, again, supplied the breakthrough, with Mathieu Bodmer and Ludovic Giuly re-establishing the hosts’ lead after Nolan Roux had equalised. Bodmer was operating in a new role as the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, but PSG coach Antoine Kombouaré played down the significance of the tactical shift. “If we win, it’s because it’s the right formula. But I prefer 4-4-2.”

Lyon are fifth, level on points with Marseille, thanks to an injury-time winner from Lisandro López – his second goal of the game – in a 2-1 win at Montpellier. Bordeaux, eighth, also needed a late goal to salvage a point at Saint-Etienne, with Fernando’s 89th-minute header stretching Les Verts‘ winless streak to nine matches. Meanwhile, Sochaux’s 2-1 win at home to Valenciennes took them up to seventh.

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La semaine en France: Week 13

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Great play has been made of the French top flight’s competitiveness since Lyon’s dominance came to an end in 2008, but that competitiveness reached slightly preposterous proportions in Week 13, with just four points now separating the top 12 clubs.

Brest remain top, by a point, after Nolan Roux’s first-half equaliser earned Alex Dupont’s side a 1-1 draw at home to Sochaux. Lille flew up the standings to second as Moussa Sow’s first career hat-trick set them up for a 5-2 shellacking of Caen, while Montpellier are behind Les Dogues on goal difference after winning 1-0 at home to Toulouse.

Paris Saint-Germain are fourth, a point back, thanks to Nenê’s last-minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw at Lorient. Rennes dropped to fifth, behind Paris on goal difference, after Julien Quercia’s 86th-minute winner consigned the Brittany outfit to defeat at in-form Auxerre.

Marseille disappointed again in a 1-1 draw at home to Lens, but although they slipped to sixth, they still have a game in hand. Lyon weren’t much better at home to Nice on Sunday night, but Jeremy Pied’s first-half volley was enough to secure a 1-0 victory that moved them to within just three points of Brest in eighth place.

Sandwiched between OM and OL are Bordeaux, after a 2-1 win at home to Nancy decided by the talking point of the weekend. With the score 1-1 in the 90th minute, Jaroslav Plašil slung a free-kick into the Nancy box and although Wendel used his hand to divert the ball towards goal and succeeded only in pushing it against the post, the linesman flagged for a goal and referee Bartolomeu Varela – to the horror of the Nancy players – agreed with him. The result dropped Nancy to second-bottom, but – incredibly – they are as close to leaders Brest (eight points) as they are to rock-bottom Arles-Avignon.

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Tactics: What should England expect from France?

The press pack accompanying the France squad to England may have been slightly miffed at the lack of attention given to Les Bleus in Fabio Capello’s pre-match press conference, but Laurent Blanc’s side will have plenty of opportunities to make themselves headline news when tonight’s match at Wembley kicks off.

France lost 2-1 to Norway in Blanc’s first game in charge and were then stunned 1-0 by Belarus in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier at the Stade de France, but have since recorded consecutive 2-0 victories against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Luxembourg. Upon taking the reins following the World Cup debacle, Blanc spoke of his desire to create a France team “that opposes its style upon its opponents”, and although we are still in the early days of his tenure, his vision for the national team is beginning to emerge.

In France’s last game, a rather laboured 2-0 defeat of Luxembourg in Metz, Blanc set France out in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield supporting Karim Benzema and Guillaume Hoarau in attack. He occasionally used a similar system during his time at Bordeaux, but against strong opposition his preference is for a midfield configuration that makes sure France cannot be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

“Playing with two strikers does not allow us to have numerical superiority in midfield,” Blanc explained in September. “You can use it against weaker teams. Against strong teams it’s vital to win the midfield battle. You have more options with two strikers but you can only play with one holding midfielder. That can weaken your team.”

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La semaine en France: Week 11

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Torrential downpours in southern France prompted the postponement of two matches over the weekend, and when the skies finally cleared the unlikely team sitting on top of the table was Brest.

Marseille’s game at home to previous leaders Rennes appeared to represent OM’s chance to recapture top spot for the first time since the end of last season, but incessant rain saw the match at Stade Vélodrome pushed back from Saturday until Sunday and then postponed definitively when the poor weather continued.

It handed Brest and Saint-Etienne the chance to climb to the summit and it was last season’s Ligue 2 runners-up who prevailed when the sides met at Stade Francis Le Blé, through a 77th-minute Mario Licka header and a sublime chip (see below) from Romain Poyet.

Brest lead the table by two points from Rennes, with Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse and Montpellier a point further back. Toulouse and Montpellier were both held to 1-1 draws at home; the former against second-bottom Lens, the latter against Paris Saint-Germain. Lyon, meanwhile, bounced back from their League Cup exit to PSG with a laboured 2-1 win at home to Sochaux that bumped them into the top half.

Bordeaux drew 2-2 at Monaco on Tuesday, after Djimi Traoré had reprised the comedy own goal act from his Liverpool days to give the away side a 10th-minute lead. Jean Tigana’s men remain ninth, but on Thursday night Les Girondins‘ captain Alou Diarra had his ban for pushing referee Wilfried Bien extended by three matches.

The build-up to the season’s first PSG-OM clash on Sunday took another twist in classically bureaucratic French style, with the ban on Marseille’s fans reinstated by the league after it had been suspended by an administrative court last week. With Brest travelling to Lille and Rennes at home to Lyon, victory could yet take Marseille top.

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La semaine en France: Week 8

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Visitors to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Saturday would have been forgiven for wondering if they’d somehow stumbled back into the 1970s, as Saint-Etienne’s famous ground played host to a sold-out clash between champions Marseille and the table-topping home side. OM took the lead in fortuitous circumstances after the ball struck referee Stéphane Bré and landed kindly for Lucho González, who dinked the ball into the penalty area for André-Pierre Gignac to volley in his first goal for the club. Dmitri Payet and Blaise Matuidi combined to set up Laurent Batlles for a 59th-minute leveller, but results on Sunday saw ASSE concede top spot.

Rennes led Ligue 1 going into the international break, topping the standings for the first time since 1970 after a 3-1 win at home to Toulouse. A sweet, rising shot from full-back Romain Danzé set the hosts on their way shortly before the interval before Kader Mangane and Sylvain Marveaux made the points safe, but coach Frédéric Antonetti (pictured) chastised his team for their sloppiness and said they would need three seasons of stability to mount a serious title challenge.

Lille moved into third place with a 3-1 win at home to Montpellier. Paris Saint-Germain could have finished the weekend on the podium but were frustrated by David Ospina (see below) in a 0-0 draw at home to Nice. Lyon clambered out of the relegation zone by winning 3-2 at Nancy, but only secured victory when an error from Gennaro Bracigliano allowed Jimmy Briand to volley in his second goal of the game in the 75th minute.

The week’s biggest story, however, occurred off the pitch. France’s Professional Football League (LFP) announced on Thursday night that away fans would be banned from both the matches between Marseille and PSG this season over security fears, drawing condemnation from fan groups and club officials.

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