After 2 weeks of Champions League football, the international break provided some interesting insight in the state of the French and Dutch soccer teams at this early stage of the World Cup year. The insights can be summarized very quickly: France seem to have the core of a team that will surprise some while the Dutch looked bleak and will have to re-think.
The match commenced as is common place at such occasions: slow. That is normal given that the teams haven’t played together for long time and the need to get accustomed to each other was visible. Holland got the better start initially when they were in possession. Slowly, however the French team got the game into their firm grip; a grip they were not to losen during the entire game. Their intent on taking the game to the Dutch became clear just after 20 minutes. At first it was Benzema who was denied by Cillessen in the Dutch goal. Only a minute later it was once more Benzema who was involved in goal action. Unlucky, he was offside and the goal disallowed.
From that point onward it was clear that France had the initiative and the better game plan. And the reward came just 12 minutes later. Blaise Matuidi played a superb pass to set Benzema free on goal in the inside right channel. The Madrid striker let the ball bounce once before striking a fierce shot from 16 m into the bottom right corner. 1-0.
Less than 10 minutes later, the possibly best passage of play set up Mathieu Valbuena on the right wing. Once more it was Matuidi who set the game in motion. It was the same player who finished acrobatically as the cross from Valbuena came slightly into his back. Nonetheless, the ball was unstoppable and France were on a roll with 2 goals scored and a clean sheet.
On the other side, Holland had to play with a make shift XI as Robben, van der Vaart and others were not available due to minor injuries. However, a Robin van Persie was there and he let the French know that he was there with a couple of excellent chances which were blocked. This was a muted performance by Holland; the Oranjes were only winners in the corner count where they ammassed 8 in contrast to 2 for France.
Holland is the country mostly associated with football played with attacking flair and verve. Sadly, this was not on display yesterday. Rather, the team of Louis van Gaal lacked cohesion and fluidity. Nothing of this was on display; rather it was a performance that was lacklustre and dull.
The value of such matches this early in the year is doubtful. France have a reputation to rebuild after the World Cup 2010 and the Euros left many in France disappointed with Les Bleues. The Dutch, runners-up in 2010 will find themselves in deep trouble if they show up in this condition in Brazil. However, this was a friendly and the squads of either coach will change before the World Cup kicks off in the summer. France will have to work on their focus as they tended to drift off during periods of the game; any team on form will exploit this. Louis van Gaal will hopefully have his best squad fit and prepared once the competition in Brazil starts in earnest.
The Wave, The Music
It seems to have become common at Stade de France to let the wave roll through the stadium. Quite why is unknown as the wave began half-way through the first half when nothing had happened and the game could have gone either way. And it was repeated during the second half. Admittedly, the second half needed some inspiration as the game turned into a lull after 60 minutes and seemed endless. Having a party on the terraces has become part of the experience of attending a match.
Neither team were delivering any justification for exuberant partying. If it was meant to get the players going, it partly worked in the first part of the game as after 25 minutes the match got faster and hence the goals came. It failed miserably in the second half as none of the playing staff bothered too much it appeared about engaging too much in the game. Luckily, the organizers have ditched The White Stripes’ Seven Nations Army as the theme song for Les Bleues but instead the Marseillaise is sung before and after half time.
No conclusions of wider consequences can be drawn from this match except that it offered playing routine for both sides. Didier Deschamps and van Gaal will both work on formations and tactics for sure until the summer and both will have opportunities to experiment before it gets serious.