France sign off in style
After France thrashed Jamaica 8-0 in their final World Cup warm-up fixture at Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, France, on Sunday, Didier Deschamps' men head to Brazil brimming with confidence.
Doubles from Blaise Matuidi, Karim Benzema and substitute Antoine Griezmann -- as well as a goal apiece from Yohan Cabaye and Olivier Giroud -- ensured that Les Bleus enjoyed the final dress rehearsal ahead of their June 15 opener against Honduras in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Benzema and Giroud are compatible
Following the news last Friday that Franck Ribery will miss this summer's tournament, the main talking point prior to the game was how France could possibly replace their talisman and whether or not it would force Deschamps to consider playing Benzema and Giroud together up front.
The 45-year-old gave his answer by deploying the pair in a front three that also featured the ever-impressive Mathieu Valbuena, with Benzema loosely fitting into Ribery's position wide on the left.
Playing the Real Madrid man and Giroud together is something many France supporters and the media have spoken about at length since the former spectacularly underperformed at Euro 2012. Former coach Laurent Blanc almost exclusively played one or the other at that tournament and Deschamps has appeared reticent at best to entertain the idea of utilising both at the same time.
On this evidence, though, he has nothing to fear.
Both linked up fantastically well with Valbuena, with Benzema's movement and ability to roam appearing to be the key to getting the best out of Les Bleus' enigmatic No. 10. He took his two goals with astonishing aplomb and his confidence is sky-high heading to Brazil.
Options despite Ribery absence
Not only were Benzema and Giroud in form on the night, but Griezmann also staked his claim for inclusion from the start against Honduras once again.
Introduced with just 19 minutes left to play -- similar to his goal-scoring cameo against Paraguay the week before -- the Real Sociedad man took both of his chances well. Although his cheeky flicked finish for the second capped his fleeting appearance, it was the fact that he immediately clicked into gear with Benzema and Valbuena that was most impressive.
With three of the four finding the back of the net five times between them and Valbuena playing a key role in a number of goals, Deschamps all of a sudden has enviable depth in attack available to him. Following the 1-1 draw with Paraguay, the lack of clinical finishing was bemoaned. Now, France appear to have tactical flexibility as well as a number of in-form goal scorers.
Team spirit looks good
However, perhaps the most encouraging sign on the night was the fact that it was clear to anybody watching that there is a strong sense of unity developing within the camp at present.
This should concern Les Tricolores' potential opponents in the World Cup because they finally look like they are getting their act together. French have imploded at major tournaments in the recent past, but history also shows that, when they get it together, they are a difficult team to stop.
The challenge now for Deschamps and his staff is to harness this convivial atmosphere, ensure that it reaches Brazil intact and that the players go out and replicate a similar performance to this one in their opening clash with Honduras at Estadio Beira-Rio. If they can do that, then -- with all due respect -- they should easily win Group E, which also features Switzerland and Ecuador.
This was an immensely satisfying result for France and a welcome boost to put in such a clinical performance after looking wasteful in front of goal last time out. However, it is this sort of score that will spawn unrealistic expectations and, because of this, the supporters and media must remain grounded as much as the players.
For it ultimately will mean nothing if Deschamps cannot get his team to ride the momentum into the Honduras clash to secure a stirring opening victory.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.