Euro 2012: Koscielny Impressive In Insipid French Loss
The entertainment value in the first two rounds of matches at these European championships was generally high, even when the quality was not always evident. Since Poland conspired to let 10-man Greece back into the tournament, we’ve seen the Russians maul the Czechs, wasteful Holland get beaten by Denmark, Spain and Italy play out a tactical battle and England and Sweden try to outdo each other in a 5-goal thriller.
Since the final round of the group stage though, matches have progressively become duller and duller. Yesterday, another high-profile game between two technically gifted sides essentially turned out to be a snore-fest. Spain really didn’t shift out of first gear and France were too worried about getting beaten. Of course, you can’t blame Laurent Blanc for being wary of the World Champions – many have tried to play Spain at their own game and perished. He had to adjust tactically to give France the best chance of competing.
I believe his idea was right. Iniesta and Jordi Alba were identified as the main threat down Spain’s left and the inclusion of two right-backs was aimed at shutting down that area of the pitch. On the other side, Arbeloa doesn’t get up the pitch so much and both Silva and Fabregas play very narrow, so the France manager reckoned Clichy, Koscielny and one of M’Vila or Malouda could deal with their threat. And it worked to an extent – Iniesta was certainly not as influential in this game as he’s been in the tournament so far. And Ribery was finding some space to attack when Spain switched their focus to the right flank.
But tactics have to be implemented by players and most of the French contingent had a poor game. Clichy was pulled all over the place by Silva and seemed too nervous in closing down the ball. Debuchy was equally unimpressive on the right, and it was his Terry-esque slip that let Jordi Alba in – of course, Clichy was again at fault for not keeping an eye on Xabi Alonso. In attack, Benzema and Ribery were not able to hold the ball up and neither Cabaye nor Malouda posed any real threat going forward.
The star French performer for me was Laurent Koscielny. I was a bit concerned about Kos being thrown directly into a game against the holders after not being played in the group stages, but he continued his Arsenal form and was hugely impressive. Laurent made the joint-most tackles for French players and won them all (3), the most interceptions (5) and the most blocks (3). Besides this, he had a 92% pass completion rate.
Olivier Giroud was only on for 10 odd minutes, and he came at a time when France seemed to have thrown the towel in. There was hardly any concerted effort to find him with crosses although Clichy did try one or two half-hearted attempts. Yann M’Vila was quietly efficient and distributed the ball well. There was one lovely through ball to set Ribery running down the left in the first half, but generally he stayed deep and tried to link play.
So now that France are out, Giroud’s transfer should be completed soon, reports suggesting it could be as early as Tuesday when Arsenal will announce his capture. If M’Vila is on Arsene’s radar too, we could see two new recruits signed before the week is out.
Tonight, England take on Italy and chances are that this could also be a tedious affair, both teams more comfortable on the counter rather than when they have to take the initiative. An early goal would help liven up the match. Still, it’s hard to call this one and I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to penalties. With Joe Hart on fire at present, England have a good chance of going through you feel.