Toothless France need more bite up front
After having conceded a goal in each of their three warm-up games, the 1998 world champions looked tighter at the back in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay on Friday in Cape Town but failed to translate superior possession into scoring chances.
"We showed we were capable of good things defensively but we have work to do, especially in attack," midfielder Abou Diaby told reporters on Saturday at France's base in Knysna, Western Cape.
Coach Raymond Domenech, who shelved his cautious 4-2-3-1 system for a bolder 4-3-3 formation with two wingers and a centre forward, was also rather pleased overall with what he saw on Friday but obviously realised something was missing.
"I saw plenty of determination and a good organisation but we need to work on our finish, on that last pass, if we want our domination to bear fruit," Domenech told reporters.
The side's best player by a long way, Diaby tried his best to move the ball forward but France, despite clearly winning the midfield battle, created only one true chance, when Sidney Govou deflected a Franck Ribery cross wide from close range early on.
"We need to play faster and play a more fluent game to open up space up front," Diaby suggested. "We need to pass the ball more quickly to be more dangerous."
That might work but Domenech must still decide who to do it with.
The coach took a gamble by leaving Thierry Henry, France's record scorer with 51 goals from 122 games, out of his starting lineup, replacing him with Nicolas Anelka, who looked ineffective in all the warm-up games and again against Uruguay.
To make matters worse, Ribery and Govou, playing on the wings, were equally disappointing.
Domenech has several options and could bring Henry back up front, move Anelka to the right or try new faces such as Andre-Pierre Gignac, who looked full of energy when he came on late against Uruguay.
The coach, who could also decide not to change anything and hope pride will ignite his forwards, did not drop any hints on what he would do for France's next Group A games against Mexico and South Africa. However, he did admit there was a problem.
"It's not my style to blame a player," Domenech said. "We need to find a collective answer but I do deplore our lack of chances. Scoring now and again would help."