French battle Swiss in potential group decider
Thursday, June 19, 2014
RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — Coach Didier Deschamps is trying to take the spotlight away from striker Karim Benzema heading into France’s potentially decisive clash with Switzerland today.
Whoever wins in Salvador will take a significant step toward clinching top spot in Group E and therefore avoid a likely match against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the next round. France has a better goal difference and will surely put the Swiss out of reach with a win.
The Swiss will need to contain Benzema, who scored twice in Sunday’s 3-0 win against a Honduras side that was reduced to 10 men before halftime. With eight goals in the past seven games, he is enjoying the best spell of his international career at just the right time.
However, Deschamps is keen to quieten the hype surrounding the Real Madrid striker.
“I don’t want him to start thinking that he’s on a mission and that everything depends on him. That’s not a good thing,” Deschamps said. “Everyone believes in him, but he should just be himself and not think that it’s just down to him to make a difference.”
The Swiss opened with a 2-1 win against Ecuador, although Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team can play much better than in that scrappy game.
While the French had to watch their backs — literally — against a Honduras side repeatedly charging into the back of them, today’s match is likely to be more of a tactical contest between two well-organized and technically assured sides.
Deschamps picked Antoine Griezmann on the left against Honduras, dropping Olivier Giroud to the bench.
While France has slightly more individual quality in key positions — goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, midfielder Paul Pogba and Benzema are better than their counterparts — Switzerland has the advantage of playing together more.
“They’ve made a lot of effort in terms of developing their players since the 1990s. They were world champions at under-17 level, they were European Championship runners-up in 2011 at under-21 level, and some of those players are playing in this team,” Stephan said. “They’ve been working on a lot with young players and the national team is benefiting from that now.”
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