Man of the Match
What a substitution Christian Wilhelmsson turned out to be. Entering at halftime, he immediately pepped up the Swedish attack, creating chances for himself and others with energetic, smart movement up front. French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris needed to be all he could be after the break, otherwise France would have gone into the quarters off a bigger defeat.
Packaged for take-away
- France needed just a point from Tuesday’s match at the Donbass Arena to move out of group play. But the full three points would have seen Laurent Blanc’s team dodge Spain in the quarters. Now, they’ll need to dig up some confidence (good luck with all that) while they try to solve the Spanish passing riddle right away.
- A pretty nice start to this one, with efforts toward goal just a’flyin’ on both sides. France gradually had more possession and more of the first-half chances, though not necessarily the better ones.
- In the 10th minute, French center back Philippe Mexes nearly turned this one upside down with the kind of mistake everyone thought him capable of making. Failing to win a routine challenge meant that Sweden’s Ola Toivonen went gliding in alone on goal with all kinds of time. The PSV striker rounded Lloris but couldn’t squeeze in his shot from a tough angle.
- Mexes’ 68th minute yellow (as he fouled needlessly far away from French goal) means he’ll miss his team’s elimination match. What is it they say about “little mercies?” Looks like there will be a Laurent Koscielny sighting in France’s future.
- Samir Nasri’s possession work as France’s offensive anchor was about like it’s been during the other tournament matches, OK but tilting toward the dull side, in dire need of some invention and perhaps more vertical movement.
- French striker Karim Benzema started closer to goal, as so many have begged him to do. But he gradually moved further back into the midfield, and that lack of movement and inability to draw center backs occasionally out of position bit the French once again.
- Given France’s desire to press high, win the ball back quickly and then possess it, they really do look like a Spain starter kit – but not a great one. There’s such a rigidity, such a lack movement and flair about it all, and not enough purpose. Perhaps that’s not so strange since France doesn’t have a Xabi Alonso, a Xavi, etc. But they do have a few fleet feet, and Les Bleus were at their most dangerous when they attacked with speed, using Franck Ribery’s speed, for instance, or pinging quickly off Benzema’s credible hold-up play.
- Let’s talk about that Zlatan Ibrahimović goal (in the 54th). Most strikers wouldn’t even think to try such a thing, a twisting, scissors shot, where the ball winds up a little high and slightly behind him at almost 18 yards out. No problem for Ibrahimovic, who had the confidence to try that crazy shot and the athleticism and technical ability to pull it off. As ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said: “You have got to be kidding me!” And Twellman hit some pretty decent goals in his day – so that’s quite a statement.
- French free kicks in the attacking third fell somewhere between “useless” and “aweful.”
- Jérémy Ménez squeezed through a gap in the Swedish defense late, using the same kind of darting, well-chosen run we saw the young PSG midfielder fabricate to such effect against Ukraine.
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