Qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup are beginning to get serious. Thursday will be a decisive night in group A, especially for France, Netherlands, Sweden and also Bulgaria.
Sweden and France are actually equal on 13 points (goals difference advantage for Sweden). Behind, Netherlands (10 points) and Bulgaria (9 points) did not capitulate and they will try to perform well to snatch qualification. Belarus and Luxembourg are now too far to compete (respectively 5 points and 1 points).
France against Netherlands is maybe the most important match. After the defeat against Sweden, the French have to win this night if they want to finish first of the group and assure qualification, moreover with Bulgaria-Sweden at the same time which will be a complicated game for the Swedish.
After surprise defeat against Sweden, France players Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham) and Dimitri Payet (Marseille) are no longer part of the team. Some returns are noteworthy: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munchen) and Nabil Fekir (Lyon) after their good starts to the season. Didier Deschamps is starting to make choices, and some players are probably already wiped off the list for the World Cup.
Ousmane Dembele is not in the team because he has not been training for 15 days because of the talks with FC Barcelona. However, Kylian Mbappe, the new Parisian signing, is selected. Mancunian Anthony Martial is not here and the battle between young stars continues: Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Thomas Lemar will have to do perform well both in club and in national team if they want to earn a place in the World Cup.
Up front, the upcoming international games should allow us to see a new Olivier Giroud partnership with Antoine Griezmann and sometimes a Gunners duo with Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette.
After Blaise Matuidi’s transfer to Juventus Turin and achievements of N’Golo Kante, we could see a midfield composed by Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante instead of usual Didier Deschamps choice Blaise Matuidi.
In defence, there are no such choices for the french manager with Raphael Varane injury, replaced by Kurt Zouma. We should see a duo composed by Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti.
In Netherlands side it’s still complicated: new coach Dick Advocaat must continue the work of these predecessors in trying to find a solid game plan and able to hold the duration. The Netherlands suffers a generational hole and it will probably wait for some young people to hatch to see a Dutch team at the top. Meanwhile, the new coach recalled Robin Van Persie after almost an absence of two years. Injured, Davy Klaassen and Nathan Ake are not retained, while Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are still in the team. Moreover, the team looks good: Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum, Memphis Depay, Bas Dost, Vincent Janssen, etc…. They are all good players for their clubs but coaches over the years did not succeed in combining these players to form a dangerous team like the one during the 2010 World Cup. Maybe they lack a strong player like Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to keep a defence still too weak and disorganised.
Under Didier Deschamps, France national team haven’t got a special tactical plan. They play in 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 depending on how he sees Antoine Griezmann, either playmaker or striker, but without a real plan in the attack. Their strengths are in their players, where each line is composed of at least one, if not two, of best player in the world.
The most important thing in this match is on Netherlands side: actual results for new coach Dick Advocaat (one loss in Bulgaria and one win against Luxembourg) do not make possible a first judgement, this game is the real first test for the coach. Visibly he wants to have an offensive team with a midfield composed by Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum giving balls to either Davy Klaassen when he’s in the team or Wesley Sneijder as playmakers, keeping speed on the wing with Arjen Robben and Memphis Depay (or others young players like Quincy Promes).
France are the favourite for this game, they have to win if they want to finish first of Group A, which is the minimum goal for the last Euro finalist. Netherlands have nothing to lose (well, third) they will give themselves every possible chance to keep a hope of qualification.
France against Netherland will play in Stade Saint-Denis (France) this Thursday at 20:45 (local time).