France draws against ten-men Uruguay

Uruguay's Diego Lugano (left) competes for the ball with France's Nicolas Anelka (right) during the World Cup group A football match between Uruguay and France in Cape Town on Friday. The match finished 0-0. Photo: AP  

The lessons of 2006 declare that France must not be written off after a sluggish start. Back in Germany, Raymond Domenech's team struggled sorely throughout the group stage yet, when a switch was flicked in the last 16, they advanced majestically to the final. Domenech is a keen follower of omens. He has to hope that this desperately dull showing presages something rather more exciting.

France did begin well against a Uruguay team of limited ambition, and who finished the game with ten men following the dismissal of the substitute Nicolás Lodeiro for a second bookable offence, an ugly lunge at Bacary Sagna. But the way that France ran out of ideas was worrying.

All of their creative talents failed to spark and the knives will be out for Nicolas Anelka and Yoann Gourcuff in particular, both of whom suffered early withdrawals after anonymous performances. Thierry Henry replaced Anelka and, at the very death, his hooked shot appeared to strike Mauricio Victorino on the arm. If there was a certain justice about the loud handball shouts being waved away, there was nothing poetic about France's display.

France had failed to win their opening match at three of the previous four major tournaments and they confronted Uruguay having endured a rocky preparation. Domenech has been under scrutiny for his late switch to a 4-3-3 formation but the surprise that he sprung here was the omission of Florent Malouda, one of his most in-form players. According to reports in France, Domenech had been unhappy at the Chelsea player for an over-zealous approach in yesterday's training session. Domenech appears to be ruling with a rod of iron.

Govou misses an early chance

France's problem in their warm-up matches had been breaking down obdurate opponents, which Uruguay certainly were, but there were flickers in the early running from Domenech's team that suggested chances would be created. The gilt-edged one fell to the out-of-form Sidney Govou and his anguished reaction told its own story.

Abou Diaby, Malouda's replacement, who drove enterprisingly from central areas, picked up possession and he fed Franck Ribéry, who got the better of Victorino to cross low into the corridor of uncertainty on the six-yard line. Govou had timed his run but, from close range, he opened up his body and guided wide of the far post.

Govou also had a header from a corner blocked by Luis Suárez, Anelka glanced over the crossbar and Fernando Muslera, the Uruguay goalkeeper, needed to be alert to keep out a Gourcuff free-kick, which was curled towards the top corner of the near post.

Diego Forlán was lively for Uruguay, stinging Hugo Lloris's palms in the 15th minute after a lovely give-and-go but the game became mired in stalemate and it drifted insipidly towards half-time. The South Africa versus Mexico tie from earlier in the day had boasted the pomp of the opening ceremony – highlights: Desmond Tutu's dance moves and R Kelly's chain mail hoodie – and it had been followed by a breathless second half. These two teams had watched the gauntlet set before them but, for long spells, it was tight and tactical rather than thrilling. Here were two streetwise teams who dared not lose their tournament opener.

Ribery man-marked

Uruguay's midfield distinguished themselves with the disciplined manner in which they held their shape and with the excellence of their tackling. Ribéry felt suffocated as he attempted to weave his spells and he was booked for a shirt tug after losing the ball in a dangerous area. Patrice Evra, the France captain, picked up a yellow card for a similar pull and Domenech appeared unhappy with the officials at the half-time break. He needed to look closer to home to explain the frustration.

Uruguay appeared content to keep bodies behind the ball – always at least seven – and ask France to find the key to unlock them. Oscar Tabárez, the manager, might have settled for a point beforehand and as the minutes ticked by, so he felt tangible reward edge closer.

Despite Forlán's foraging, Luis Suárez, his strike partner, could not get into the game and Ignacio González, the playmaker, struggled similarly. It was not a night for the creative talents. It was noisy inside the stadium; the vuvuzelas saw to that. The background racket made it feel a little like a speedway meet. A very large speedway meet but the monotonous drone felt more and more appropriate.

The relatively promising first 20 minutes became a distant memory and the sloth-inducing fare was reflected by the PA announcer when Tabárez withdrew González. "Coming on for Paraguay…" he started, before quickly correcting himself.

The game desperately needed a spark but it was not provided by the melee that followed Alvaro Pereira's strong challenge on Jérémy Toulalan – Domenech entered the pitch to appeal for calm.

Lodeira, the great young hope of Uruguayan football, had already been booked for dissent when he leapt into his tackle on Sagna that compelled the Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura to perform the old two-card trick.

Henry did make an impact but this was a game that neither team did enough to win. Forlán miscued a golden chance late on, Uruguayan's only one of the evening, but its execution would have been hard on France. Instead, Domenech's critics will now tread a familiar path.

© Guardian News and Media 2010

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 6:15:14 PM |

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