There is no doubt about it, Les Bleus gave a damn good account of themselves when the reigning world champions came calling.
Right up to the final whistle, which Spain captain Xavi Hernandez reliably hinted to the match official came an alarming 50 seconds after the indicated 3 minutes of stoppages, it was difficult to tell the two teams apart.
Even when Paul Pogba was given his marching orders after collecting a second yellow card in the 78th minute, France still managed to create enough chances to keep the La Roja defence on their toes for the rest of the game.
Which brings me to my, and some France supporters’ point. Despite the numerous chances France created, they did not have a reliable striker to apply the much-needed finishing touch. Everyone knows football is a cruel mistress who only rewards those who make the net bulge. Those who fail to do so leave the field to empty clichés like ‘the better team lost’ and ‘they did everything right but score’. France was the team to be showered with this meaningless praise after their fruitless but valiant battle against the Euro 2012 champions in Paris on Tuesday night. But they needn’t have suffered this fate had they had a more confident striker leading the line.
Karim Benzema, chosen by Didier Deschamps as the team’s target man, has now not found the net for his country for over 1,000 minutes of football. And the lack of confidence such goal droughts tend to foster in strikers showed in the way he twice fluffed his lines when presented with decent chances either side of half-time. This by no means warranted the boos the Real Madrid forward has now had to endure for three consecutive France games; any striker can undergo a rough patch. Indeed, Franck Ribery had a pair of more presentable chances which he similarly failed to make the most of. Maybe the animosity of France fans towards Benzema has been exacerbated by the fact that he remorselessly refuses to sing his country’s anthem before matches.
From all appearances the France number 10 seems to be trying hard, but some claim he is yet again succumbing to the weight demon that undermined his first season at the Bernabeu. Word has it that Benzema followed doctor recommendations to drop a diet plan that saw him shed four kilos last season, and is now paying the price. One wonders if any player who dons the Real Madrid number 9 shirt has to battle the bulge what with the memory of Brazil’s Ronaldo still fresh in our minds. But I digress; what has many France fans dumbfounded, and downright mad, is the fact that Deschamps keeps handing Benzema a first-team place despite not scoring for the past 12 international matches.
The France coach opted to start the blunt Benzema ahead of Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud who scored the opening goal in Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Georgia. And when Deschamps finally decided to bench Benzema in the 82nd minute, it was Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko who came on in his place. One wonders why the France gaffer brought Giroud on in the second minute of stoppage time, with only a minute of play left. I personally wouldn’t have blamed the former Montpellier man if he had pulled a Tevez and declined to suit down. Maybe he would have scored, given his current form, if he was started in place of Benzema, or thrown into the action earlier. But we will never know what could have happened, or Didier Deschamp’s motivations for playing his cards as he did. All we know is that France may now have to take the long route to Brazil.