Wednesday 22 November 2017

Marriage of convenience in Lille reveals nothing new for Deschamps

France 0 Switzerland 0

A Hungary supporter shows off a tattoo on his torso at Stade Velodrome. Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images
A Hungary supporter shows off a tattoo on his torso at Stade Velodrome. Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

France and Switzerland came for a draw and on a thoroughly underwhelming night in Flanders, they both got it.

Not even a loud capacity crowd, the sporadic genius of Paul Pogba or the late introduction of Dimitri Payet could dress up this game as anything other than it was: one of the major drawbacks of the 24-team format, stifling the jeopardy and ambition that all tournament football should have by right.

A draw suited both sides. France waltz into the last-16 as group winners, while Switzerland qualify as unbeaten runners-up to face - probably - Poland.

If not quite the Anschluss between Austria and Germany in 1982, then for these European neighbours it was certainly a marriage of convenience.

As news filtered through of Albania's goal against Romania, a lukewarm second half fizzled out at mid-tempo and ended to the sound of light boos.

The thousands in the stadium and the millions at home deserved better.

For France, it was either a wildly frustrating night or an encouragingly routine one, depending on your point of view.

Coach Didier Deschamps threw in a few fringe players and, while none of them disgraced themselves, none of them really distinguished themselves either.

Their lack of sharpness in the final third will still be a concern and, when the big teams start lining up in the knockout stages, they will need to improve significantly.

Still, three games, seven points. Job done. The same could be said of Switzerland, who saluted their fans at the end as if they had just won promotion.

In a way, then, it was pretty much what you would expect from a game between two teams whose qualification was virtually secure.

There was a certain freedom to the game that occasionally translated into a certain looseness.

It might have translated into a spectacle, too, were it not for a pitch so poor that France had declined to train on it before the game: a mottled, sodden thing with the texture and consistency of a moth-eaten carpet.

Throw in three ripped Swiss jerseys in the first half alone and a ball that burst early in the second half, and the whole affair had a sort of second-rate feel to it.

That was also the impression you got from a French team that showed five changes - Payet, Olivier Giroud and N'Golo Kanté rested, the veteran André-Pierre Gignac up front.

Evidently Deschamps was prioritising physical freshness over cohesion, yet after another imperfect night you wondered whether he was any closer to learning his first-choice XI.

Pogba, at least, was up for it. For a man whose focus and judgement had been questioned in the previous days, the brilliant Juventus midfielder seemed determined to put his personal branding on this match.

He launched a shot from distance, stung Yann Sommer's fingertips with a shot from a tight angle and hit the bar from 25 yards - all in the first 20 minutes. Each time, he lashed the ball like it was a member of the French press.

With the odd jet-powered burst from the occasionally thrilling Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman, France certainly did not lack for creative quality. But they were also failing to get men back quickly enough, and at times Switzerland were able to play through the midfield far too easily.

What this game needed above all was a dash of colour, a sprig of culture, a soupcon of something interesting.

And so, with 25 minutes remaining, from the bench emerged Super-Payet, France's latest national hero, to bail them out once again. Yet this carcass of a match proved beyond even his skills.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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