France advances with questions, concerns after loss to Sweden
France's front four was very poor against a Sweden team with nothing but pride to play for, and its 23-match unbeaten streak was snapped as a result. The stats will show plenty of shots on goal, but many were hit-and-hopes after overelaborate buildup of the kind that gives new meaning to the term "sterile possession." The question now is whether France coach Laurent Blanc changes things around -- before facing defending champ Spain in the quarterfinals -- or relies on his crew's hunger to bounce back.
Yohan Cabaye in front of the back four would at least give him an extra passer in the middle of the park and, hopefully, speed up the ball movement. But the spark has to come from Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery, the two guys most likely to keep their place against Spain. Plus, of course, Karim Benzema, who is very much the lone offensive terminus.
For once, let's not open the usual gigantic can of worms that is the Zlatan Ibrahimovic debate. Let us not sit there and talk about whether he is a genuine superstar or a preening prima donna who goes missing in big games. Instead, let's just sit back and admire the ridiculous scissors kick that he ferociously volleyed past Hugo Lloris (and, nearly, through Philippe Mexes, like Eric Cantona in that old Nike ad where they take on the demons). It was a marvel of skill, of the kind even someone who hates the sport can appreciate. And, by some margin, the best goal in the tournament.
Mexes picked up his second booking against Sweden, which means he'll miss the quarterfinal against Spain. You may be tempted to think it's actually a positive given that the Milan defender has been exceptionally inconsistent in this tournament thus far. On paper, Laurent Koscielny might actually provide a better match for Spain's tiki-taka. On the other hand, Blanc only took three central defenders to the Euros (the other is Mexes' defensive partner, Adil Rami). That means France is an injury or red card away from playing Yann M'Vila or Alou Diarra out of position at center back. And that's worrying.