30 March 2005

Israel 1-1 France

Another failure for France.

I thought they did a credible job in the first half. France certainly had the bulk of the pressure, and actually had several chances. Much has been made of Zidane's departure, that France may be missing their playmaker, but I saw France have some good looks at goal. However, aside from a good shot from Sylvain Wiltord that was well saved by keeper Dudu Awate, France didn't really come close.

Nor did Israel. Despite their hard work Israel weren't able to retain much posession, and when they did get to see some of the ball they were unable to string together much pressure. France were putting quite a few players behind the ball, with a somewhat surprisingly defensive approach, but it served them fairly well.

France looked a bit more aggressive at the start of the second half, and it paid off quickly with Trezeguet's goal on the 50th minute. The cross from Wiltord was poorly defended, and Awate was caught in no man's land when the header came goalward. Still, it was a fair result, and France looked to settle in for the needed three points.

But five minutes later, Trezeguet lost control. After a hard foul, Tal Ben Haim stood over the prone Trezeguet and baited him into a head-butt. Ben Haim went down in a heap. The Israeli drew a deserved yellow for the foul, but Trezeguet drew the straight red for retaliation. Ben Haim probably made a meal of the contact, but there's no doubt that Trezeguet led with his head, and the red was an inevitable outcome. Now France were down to 10 men for 35 minutes, and Israel found renewed hope.

At this point the battle was truly on. Israel was now able to hold an enormous amount of posession, and to bring some good pressure out of it. But France are incredibly dogged in defense and held off everything that came into the box. Israel showed respectable patience, and were able to work some good opportunities. Fabien Bartez was forced into some decent saves — and had to recover from an overaggressive blunder — in order to deny the Israelis.

As the game grew to a close, Israel looked to be losing energy after working so hard, and their play grew a bit more ragged. But as France began to make more runs, they too grew tired. Surprisingly, France coach Raymond Domenech didn't bring on any subs, and the French players continued to wear down.

The continual Israel pressure finally told in the 83rd minute. Adoram Keisi fired in a cross; Bartez got a finger on it but couldn't push it farther than Walid Badir's charging head. Badir poked the ball into the corner of the goal and Tel Aviv erupted. The commentators punished Bartez, and he certainly could have done better. But Badir was completely unmarked at the far post and Bartez didn't have many options. The French legs had worn out and Israel made them pay.

The final minutes were somewhat chaotic, with both teams exhausted but fighting hard. Still Domenech did not bring on a sub; even though the game was on the line, he didn't bring on any fresh bodies until well into stoppage time. France didn't have anything left, and the game ended on the draw.

So where does this leave everyone? France actually are leading the group at 10 points, with a slight nod over Israel due to their goal differential. But Switzerland and Ireland are right behind on 9 points, with a game in hand (thanks in part to Switzerland's 1-0 home win over Cyprus). So there's no sense of safety for Les Bleus.
They're not out yet... but they're running out of chances for points. Israel have their issues too; they only have one home game left, and face difficult road trips. None of the contenders are done yet... but Ireland and Switzerland should be feeling a good amount of hope.

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