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 By Ian Holyman

Deschamps, France move forward

Didier Deschamps was keen to focus on France's place in the last 16 rather than the goalless draw with Ecuador that brought their group-stage campaign to an underwhelming close on Wednesday.

After defeating Honduras easily and then sweeping aside Switzerland, Les Bleus had been expected to brush off the challenge of Ecuador in Rio de Janeiro and complete a clean sweep of Group E, despite Deschamps resting a clutch of first-choice players.

EcuadorEcuador
FranceFrance
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However, though Manchester United's Antonio Valencia was sent off just five minutes into the second half to leave the French with a numerical advantage, Deschamps' men were unable to overcome their South American opponents' dogged resistance.

Despite his team's momentum being halted, Deschamps, 45, was delighted to have clinched a last 16 berth where they will face Nigeria, who finished runners-up to Argentina in Group F.

"It would take a lot to dampen our joy," he said. "We came here to qualify for the last 16, and we did that by finishing top of the group. If the team changed in its composition, there was the same common thread running through it.

"We came up against a side that defended very well, even if we had more space with 11 against 10. We lacked a bit of cutting edge, because we had chances. In any case, I'm not going to keep in mind anything negative from this evening. This draw does not in any way diminish our delight at being in the last 16."

Blaise Matuidi and France could find no joy against Ecuador, but will advance to the round of 16.

The 1998 World Cup winner's attitude was echoed by striker Karim Benzema, one of several French players to go close to breaking the deadlock at the Maracana only to be foiled by goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.

"We've qualified. We have to be happy with that, don't we? It was a difficult game. Every match is," Benzema said. "During the previous encounters, we did well in front of goal. This evening, we came up against a side that caused us problems physically. We had chances, but came up against a goalkeeper who stifled them. Now we have to rest, recover well and head into the last 16 at 100 percent."

The rather fitful display was perhaps to be expected as Deschamps made six changes to the starting XI that had crushed Switzerland 5-2 in their second outing in Brazil. He was, however, rewarded with a solid performance from his "hairdressers," as the French call tournament squad second-stringers, with Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin excelling in front of the back four in a role usually played by Yohan Cabaye.

"Morgan is little known by the public and some journalists, but he has had good seasons with Southampton," Deschamps acknowledged. "He has all the qualities necessary. It's a big step up for him, but I had no doubt he could do it. I think he'll remember his first start."

PSG man Cabaye will no doubt return to take on Nigeria, who await in Brasilia next Monday. Deschamps insisted he had time to study his team's African opponents further before kick-off in the Brazilian capital.

"We have this evening and tomorrow to move onto that. I know Nigeria, but we are going to go deeper into it. We'll play at 1 p.m. We're going to adapt by setting ourselves on that rhythm the day after tomorrow," Deschamps, who had watched part of the Super Eagles' thrilling 3-2 defeat to Argentina earlier in the day, said.

"They are a solid team, capable of defending well, with a very good goalkeeper, and they have quality and pace up front. It'll be a tough game."

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