Rotation leaves France lacking 'je ne sais quoi': how Stats Zone saw Ecuador 0-0 France
With France already through to the knockout stages before this game kicked off, Didier Deschamps was afforded the chance to shuffle his pack and rest a couple of his established stars in favour of a few younger fringe players.
Deschamps stuck with his 4-3-3 system, but made six changes from the 5-2 win over Switzerland. Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena were among the players rested, while the likes of Lucas Digne, Morgan Schneiderlin, Paul Pogba and Antoine Greizmann were brought in.
With Newcastle's Moussa Sissoko moving from the midfield three into the forward three, there wasn't quite the same natural width as against Switzerland when, generally speaking, Giroud was flanked by Benzema and Valbuena. This left France relying on their full-backs for width - not much of a headache with Digne and Sagna in the side, although it did mean there wasn't quite the same fluidity in attack as there had been in Les Bleus' first two matches in Brazil.
The most interesting addition to the side was Schneiderlin, who at the time of the last World Cup was playing in League One (as opposed to Ligue Un). Since arriving in the Premier League with Southampton two years ago, the midfielder has built a reputation for being consistent when distributing the ball, and persistent when trying to win it back.
There was more of the former than the latter on show at the Maracana on Wednesday evening. No player on the pitch completed more than Schneiderlin's 65 passes, although he only completed 2 tackles and 2 interceptions - not particularly high numbers by his standards, although that was perhaps a reflection of how much his team dominated possession.
Schneiderlin kept things ticking over in the middle of the park, but brought little more than that to the table. France missed the vision of Cabaye and the guile of Valbuena - although they still created enough chances to have won the game.
Much of their creativity on the night came from Juventus schemer Paul Pogba, who completed more passes in the attacking third than any other player (30) and was direct and aggressive with his running at opposition players, completing 5 take-ons.
Despite the fact France were through and Ecuador needed the three points, it was the South American side who sat deep. Their team defensice dashboard (below) shows plenty of blocks and clearances in their defensive third, but hardly any tackles or interceptions higher up the pitch.
This invited near-constant pressure from their opponents, particularly after Manchester United's Antonio Valencia was sent off for a dangerous-looking challenge on Digne early in the second half.
The star of Ecuador's campaign up to this point had been forward Enner Valencia, who scored three goals in La Tri's first two matches of the tournament. However in this match he was completely isolated, rarely receiving the ball, with his team-mates often resorting to long balls upfield rather than shorter passes in to feet. With the 5ft 7in forward having won only 3/8 aerial duels in his first two outings, this was perhaps always a flawed plan. It was a relatively straightforward night for Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny.
The Pachuca striker had just 1 clear-cut chance - a first-half header that was easily saved by Hugo Lloris.
Facts and figures
- France have spent 87 minutes of this World Cup playing against 10 men.
- There have been red cards shown in 5 of France's last 7 World Cup matches.
- Antonio Valencia has been sent off in 2 of his last 4 games for Ecuador.
- Valencia is the first man to be sent off for Ecuador at the World Cup.
- Karim Benzema's first shot of the match was not until the 44th minute.
- Only against Paraguay in 1998 (36) have France made more crosses from open play in a single World Cup game (32 tonight; since 1966).
- Alexander Dominguez made 9 saves against France. Only twice since 1966 has a goalkeeper made more saves in a World Cup match and managed to keep a clean sheet (Pagliuca - 10 for Italy vs Brazil in 1994, Quiroga - 13 for Peru vs Netherlands in 1978).
- France's last 2 World Cup clashes with South American teams have ended 0-0.
- The French have kept a clean sheet in their last 6 World Cup games against South American sides.
- Ecuador are the first South American team to be eliminated from the 2014 World Cup.
- France have topped their group of the first time since the 1998 World Cup.