RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — France coach Didier Deschamps has “far too much respect” for Ecuador to talk up his team’s chances of another goal-feast in their final group game Wednesday.
France followed up its 3-0 win against Honduras with a 5-2 thrashing of Switzerland last Friday and comfortably tops Group E with six points. It has a massively superior goal difference, meaning that it could even lose and still go through.
The rampant forward line has scored 39 goals stretching back over the past 11 games and the team’s flamboyant style has drawn widespread praise.
But Deschamps has been playing down expectations since the Switzerland rout and is in no mood to stop.
“Ecuador has a chance to go through as well, so I’m not going to start predicting how many goals we’re going to score, even though we’ve been doing well in attack,” he said. “I have far too much respect for this Ecuador team to think we’re going to have an easy game tomorrow. We’re taking them very seriously.”
A draw is enough to guarantee top spot for France, and would also send Ecuador through to the next round if Switzerland fails to beat Honduras in the other match.
His team may face a sterner test against Ecuador, which has a more dangerous forward line than the Swiss or Honduras. Enner Valencia has three goals — the same tally as France’s Karim Benzema — and Antonio Valencia has proved with Manchester United how dangerous he can be down the right flank.
“They’ve been playing in a 4-4-2 for quite a while now. Antonio Valencia’s very quick, (Jefferson) Montero on the left dribbles well and speeds the game up,” Deschamps said. “The other Valencia, Enner, plays off the main forward Felipe Caicedo and they combine well each other.”
Still, despite talking up Ecuador’s ability, Deschamps is confident enough to announce he will make changes.
There is one enforced switch, with midfielder Yohan Cabaye suspended, but Deschamps hinted others — including Benzema — may get a rest.
“You’ll see the changes tomorrow even if you (the media) anticipated them a bit. It’s difficult to go into the details right now,” he said. “I’ve got total faith in the 23 players and if I chose them it’s because at one stage or another they’re going to play. You have to find the right balance between those who have played the two matches and those who aren’t used to playing with each other at all.”
Most of the reported changes were in defense, with fullbacks Mathieu Debuchy and Patrice Evra set to be replaced by Bacary Sagna and Lucas Digne, and Laurent Koscielny reportedly coming in for Raphael Varane.
The inexperienced Morgan Schneiderlin is touted to replace Cabaye.
Deschamps even hinted Benzema could get a breather, despite being in the form of his life after scoring nine goals in the past eight games.
“He might start the game or he might come on,” Deschamps said. “I have choices to make concerning quite a few players.”
France’s World Cup has gone smoothly so far — unlike four years ago when the team shamed a nation by going on strike. But there was one small glitch on Tuesday when France had to switch its late-afternoon training session from the Maracana stadium to the Joao Havelange Olympic stadium in Rio.
This was done to preserve the state of the Maracana’s playing surface, which is showing signs of wear.
“It’s for a good reason,” Deschamps said. “Although obviously it does cause you some inconvenience.”