BRAZIL 2014 - Pressure on France
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP):
The pressure is all on France to beat Honduras in their opening World Cup match today, and coach Didier Deschamps hopes his relatively inexperienced squad is mature enough to handle the expectations.
Deschamps points to Spain's 5-1 thrashing by the Netherlands on Friday, and Brazil's scrappy opener against Croatia the day before, as evidence that nerves can affect favourites in an opening match that often sets the tone for the ensuing games.
France should know.
Four years ago, France had a 0-0 draw with Uruguay and went out of the group stage without winning a game. Four years before, Les Bleus drew 0-0 against the Swiss and only scraped into the second round with two second-half goals against Togo in their last group game.
"Even when a great team like Spain has an enormous amount of confidence and serenity, things are never evident," Deschamps said yesterday. "All the teams are prepared here. There might not be that much of a difference."
Only a small group remains from France's squad at the 2010 World Cup. Deschamps has freshened things up with some young faces but they have limited international experience and, crucially, have never been exposed to pressure of this intensity.
Injuries that ruled Franck Ribery and No. 2 goalkeeper Steve Mandanda out of the squad means only fullbacks Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and winger Mathieu Valbuena with any experience from the 2010 World Cup. However, Valbuena's contribution was a fleeting substitute's appearance.
One of France's brightest prospects is 21-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba, while 23-year-old winger Antoine Griezmann is pushing for a starting place on the left wing. The 20-year-old left back Lucas Digne has made only two international appearances, raising the question of how he copes at the highest level if Evra gets injured.
"The fact that you're young (has) advantages, like enthusiasm and drive," Deschamps said. But "veterans who've been through this before handle this kind of experience better."