France look to attack
Raymond Domenech (File)
Rades - France coach Raymond Domenech is being urged by his players to let them keep playing attacking football at the World Cup, because they feel so comfortable in the new 4-3-3 formation.
Domenech switched to a more adventurous style in Wednesday's 2-1 win against Costa Rica, and the signs were encouraging enough for him to try it again in Sunday's friendly against Tunisia.
"There was an improvement in the way we played. There was a lot more movement around the ball carrier, which wasn't the case in the last few games, and we were able to find a lot of space," France midfielder Yoann Gourcuff said. "We spoke to each other a lot, you have to keep talking when you only have three in midfield."
Gourcuff was alongside Lyon's Jeremy Toulalan and Chelsea's Florent Malouda in midfield against Costa Rica, and Gourcuff started to rediscover the touch and finesse that he had lost in the stale 4-2-3-1 formation France adopted throughout the qualifiers.
Domenech will be reluctant to stall the team's rhythm against Tunisia, and against China on Friday, now that it finally has some flair.
"We felt free, we didn't feel like we were prisoners to a system," Malouda said after the Costa Rica game.
The absence of Lassana Diarra, who had to leave the squad during the pre-World Cup training camp last week because of a genetic red blood cell disorder, has made it easier for Domenech to keep only Toulalan as a holding midfielder.
Some commentators are speculating that the players told Domenech to change the system. Nicolas Anelka, for example, was highly critical of Domenech's lackluster tactical approach when France was totally outplayed by Spain in a friendly match in March, losing 2-0 at home.
"Perhaps the players thought they were heading into a brick wall, and went to see him to get him to change his mind," former France striker Christophe Dugarry told sports daily L'Equipe.
Toulalan, who is growing in stature in the France team with his unselfish attitude and fighting spirit, held the midfield together well _ although he is likely to face a far harder test when France plays Uruguay in its opening World Cup game on June 11.
"It's rather positive. We controlled the game, we created a lot of chances," Toulalan said. "It's a shame we didn't put more of them away. Maybe we were lacking a few more players in front of goal."
Although France was not clinical enough against Costa Rica, it showed the attacking flair and panache so lacking in recent years, and even Domenech's fiercest critics like Dugarry and Bixente Lizarazu applauded him.
"For the first time in a very, very long time, I really enjoyed watching a France game," Dugarry said. "I finally saw a well-organized team, with players blossoming, a clear way of playing."
Domenech's new system means Franck Ribery can return to the left flank he so favors with Bayern Munich, giving France pace and skill in abundance. Ribery was fresh and energetic against Costa Rica and is hitting form at just the right time.
Against Tunisia, Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka is again likely to be preferred to Thierry Henry at center forward, with Sidney Govou, Mathieu Valbuena _ who scored the winner against Costa Rica after coming on as a substitute _ and Andre-Pierre Gignac all fighting for a place on the right of the attack.
Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby, who did well when he came on for the last 15 minutes on Wednesday night in Lens, may get more playing time against Tunisia, and Arsenal defender William Gallas is likely to play for 60 minutes as he shakes off his calf injury. Gallas played the first half against Costa Rica.
One drawback to the 4-3-3 is that that the defense is even more exposed now, but if France finally converts its chances up front that should not matter.
"When Franck is charging forward, like he does so well, it's hard for us to track back (when the other team attacks)," Toulalan added. "You have to find a balance."
Tunisia, which has skillful midfielders like Selim Benachour and powerful forwards like Issam Jemaa, will pose a threat with its pace and movement _ similar qualities shared by Uruguay and Mexico, France's other group opponent along with host South Africa.