RIO DE JANEIRO — The French team that will play in the round of 16 against Nigeria on Monday is a very different team from the one that went home after the group stage four years ago.
That 2010 team was marred with egos and internal dissension. There were issues between older players and younger ones, coaches and veterans and it was very clear that not everyone wearing the French logo was working toward a common goal.
But Wednesday was different.
Even though the French played a mediocre game and settled for a 0-0 draw against an Ecuadorian team that had 10 men most of the second half, there was a joy about the team that it had achieved a monumental goal. As the top finisher in Group E, France has given its fans something to cheer about and a belief that the past tensions and failure were behind it.
“What I see now, since the first day we are together, there’s sense of trust in this group to do things right,” coach Didier Deschamps said. “It’s a pleasure to be with them. There’s a great dedication in what they do. And there’s a common wish to really fight together and go as far as possible. I know my goal and the goal of my staff is to bring these elements together.”
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France is no stranger to success in the World Cup. In 1998, it won the title and in 2006 it finished as the runner-up to Germany, a team the French could play in the quarterfinals (and a team Deschamps refused to talk about). But to get back to that level of play, Deschamps said his team can’t get too excited about exiting the group stage and must already start looking ahead to Nigeria, a team that could easily erase any progress the French have built.
“There’s no point in looking that far,” Deschamps said of talk of making the final. “Only one thing is on my mind and that’s Nigeria and the round of 16. This is what we want. There’s so many great countries eliminated so far and we need to get ready for that.”
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