World Cup Diary / France Looking Good, Like You Knew They Would

When Sepp Blatter haunts your dreams, you know you’ve got World Cup Fever.

Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
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France's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal against Switzerland. June 20, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

You know you’re watching too much soccer when you start dreaming about the game’s ruling body, FIFA. The Diary went to sleep Friday night buoyed by France’s fantastic performance against Switzerland, but at some point during the night the image of FIFA leader Sepp Blatter crept into its head. Specifically, the 78-year-old’s campaign to be re-elected FIFA president.

In the dream at least, this is the Blatter campaign:

1. All countries around the world will adapt a standardized FIFA-time for the duration of the next World Cup so that, no matter where you are on the planet, you will be watching Canada vs. New Zealand at 7.30 P.M. This proposal is also the campaign’s main slogan: It’s Blatter time!

2. Penalty shootouts will be scrapped at future tournaments. Instead, both teams will place a bag of money in their goal at the start of the game. In the event of a tie, the team with the biggest pile of cash advances to the next round. The money is to be considered a tax-free gift to FIFA.

3. A place in the knockout stage will be reserved for a losing side whose players have folded their arms the best in the filmed presentation of the line-ups. (This decision is to be in the hands of Mr. Blatter himself.)

Luckily, the alarm went off before any more fiendish plans could be revealed.

What’s most scary, though, is that FIFA is probably plotting even worse things.
Friday must have been a day of mixed emotions for the Swiss-born Blatter. Delight that the tournament continues to attract rave reviews; disappointment that his native side had a defense resembling Swiss cheese. (He probably won’t care that apparently it took fans three and a half hours to get from Recife town center to the actual ground for the Costa Rica/Italy game.)

France has had an interesting time at recent World Cups, with its record being: winner (1998); laughingstock (2002); finalist (2006); laughingstock (2010). Given the side’s confident, stylish performances in its first two games, a place in the final is definitely achievable.

What’s most noticeable is that France is clearly a united team. The pre-tournament injury to Franck Ribery actually may have helped the side – one less giant ego to contend with. Certainly, the team is playing with flair and, ahem, jeu de vivre.

France scored five but could have doubled that tally against the supine Swiss. Karim Benzema was even able to smile after he scored a beautiful “goal” a second or so after the referee blew for the final whistle. (Shades of referee Clive Thomas in 1978, who blew his whistle as a corner was coming over a fraction of a second before a Brazilian headed a goal – and the reason for a rule change supposedly stopping such things ever happening again.)

This French side offers power, pace and precision – ironically, qualities it’s hard to find in a French car. A point in its final group game, against Ecuador, will see it top Group E. The South Americans bested Honduras in the group’s other game Friday, 2-1.

Congratulations to Costa Rica, which joined Netherlands, Chile and Colombia in qualifying for the last 16. The tiny Central American country (with a population under 5 million) deservedly qualified after a 1-0 victory over Italy - a result that consigned England to the exit door.

Anyone who’s spent any time in Costa Rica will delight in the team’s progress. A stunningly beautiful place where about a quarter of the land is accorded national-park status, the most notable thing about the country is that it disbanded its army in 1949. (Who’s going to lead a coup, the Coast Guard?)

So let’s all raise a toast - with coffee, naturally - to the Costa Ricans, who have belied their lowly status with disciplined, committed performances with no-little skill. An effort exemplified by Arsenal striker Joel Campbell (22 this week), who has been with the London club since 2011 but yet to play for it. That will be changing soon.

Today’s games:

Group F
Argentina vs. Iran, 7 P.M.
Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 A.M.

Group G
Germany vs. Ghana 10 P.M.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter takes his seat for the Honduras-Ecuador match. Brazil, June 20, 2014.Credit: AP
France's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal against Switzerland. June 20, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Switzerland's Granit Xhaka at the end of the match against France. June 20, 2014. Credit: Reuters

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