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Jun 25, 2014

France: It only gets harder from here

2014 FIFA World Cup Group E: Ecuador 0-0 France

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Three quick thoughts about the goalless draw that saw Ecuador exit the World Cup and ensured France's status as winners of Group E.

1. Despite failure, Ecuador make France suffer

France lose their perfect record; South America lose their perfect tournament. Ecuador became the first side from the host nation's home continent to be eliminated, but only after giving Didier Deschamps plenty of cause for thought over how far his own team can go.

This was the first time the French had dropped points, but also the first time real questions have been raised about their quality.

EcuadorEcuador
FranceFrance
0
0
FT
Match 42
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At the very least, Nigeria will now know exactly what to look for in their last-16 game.

Reinaldo Rueda, meanwhile, must look at what went wrong in his own team.

Most conspicuously, there was the contentious red card for Antonio Valencia. While he appeared to recklessly leave his studs up in a 50-50 challenge, the nature of the exchange meant it wasn't quite so clear-cut.

Despite the reduction to 10 men, however, there remained questions over how many attackers Rueda should have introduced and when.

None of it was enough, but it was sufficient to make France suffer more than at any other point in this tournament so far.

Antonio Valencia's red card doomed what slim chances Ecuador had of beating France.

2. France must reintroduce ball control

While you wouldn't quite call it a false start, the opening minutes of this game didn't exactly indicate what was to follow. France initially tried to overwhelm Ecuador with pure speed.

That, however, didn't itself follow what preceded it. One of the most impressive elements of the French game so far has been the control they've asserted, with the poise of Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Valbuena greatly complementing the rampaging attacking of their other forwards.

Here, both of those players were rested, and it meant France could never themselves relax. They could never get a hold on the game, never looked fully in command, and were always on the verge of leaving their defence wide open.

Ecuador exposed that several times but didn't themselves have the accuracy to exploit it.

It should serve as a warning to France. They need to reintroduce that control, or risk much worse damage against a Nigerian side who evidently revel in that kind of openness.

Enner Valencia and Michael Arroyo should have scored here. Who knows what Nigeria's Ahmed Musa can do after the chaos he caused against Argentina?

Cabaye and Valbuena need to be back in that side. As brilliant as Karim Benzema is, this game displayed that his play -- and the entire team itself -- is dependent on that centre holding.

France lost their 100 percent record. They cannot lose their way.

Not even the introduction of Olivier Giroud could help France find a goal against Ecuador.

3. France are yet to be truly challenged

As joyfully impressive as France have been throughout this World Cup, there remains a sense they have not yet really been imposed upon. Both of the first two games went their way, while neither Switzerland nor Honduras were able to really challenge them.

While this is not to say that their obvious quality is an illusion, Ecuador were at least more successful in trying to get to the truth.

They initially put it right up the French, and caused the defence real problems with the directness of their running. Enner Valencia was particularly impressive, and unlucky not to score the first goal with a leaping header.

Later on, Christian Noboa was far from unlucky when presented with another opportunity. He was just indecisive.

Hesitating in a way that none of Ecuador's other attackers were on those breaks, the midfielder delayed his shot, then could do little else other than drive it wide.

It was a wasted opportunity, and perhaps revealed that the South American side did not quite have the talent to seriously trouble France. At the same time, it did say much that Deschamps felt he had to bring on Raphael Varane for Mamadou Sakho to counter that acceleration on the break. Similarly, he was sufficiently concerned about potentially needing a goal to introduce Olivier Giroud.

Ecuador weren't quite good enough to get one themselves, but they did perhaps start to show that France maybe aren't yet good enough to win this World Cup.