France

AS Monaco: How the Principality prevailed over the Parisians

It was a nasty Sunday night at Nice for Paris Saint Germain, as they probably lost their title, and they definitely lost their heads in the 3-1 defeat, with Thiago Motta and Angel Di Maria both shown straight red cards either side of Anastasios Donis’ killer third goal.

To demonstrate how much of a meltdown it was for Unai Emery’s side: it was the first time PSG had more than one player dismissed in a match since three were given their marching orders in a meeting with Evian, way back in 2013.

Nice, who have performed above all expectations this season and have already secured Champions League football next season, were just a sideshow however, in what will probably go down as the night Monaco became champions.

Leonardo Jardim’s side lead PSG by three points with four games of the Ligue 1 season to go, but Monaco have a game in hand over the holders for the last four seasons, who have just three matches left. It will be Monaco’s first league title since 2000.

It was a big night for Monaco, probably best demonstrated by the club Twitter account posting: “Belle victorie Nice” (nice victory, Nice) with the speak-no-evil monkey Emoji at full-time, swiftly followed by the league table.

The two-and-a-half thousand people that retweeted “Belle victorie” know that Monaco have more than one hand on the trophy, and so do Monaco themselves. But how have the Principality prevailed over the Parisians? By being the most exciting team in Europe, that’s how.

A 3-1 win over Toulouse at the weekend took Monaco up to 95 league goals for the season, more than anyone else in the continent but, despite their gung-ho nature being open, they have only conceded 29 in the league, which has their defence as the third best in Ligue 1, behind PSG and Nice. A goal difference of 66 is the highest by some distance.

The biggest contributor to Monaco’s goals is a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao, who has 18, and ‘El Tigre’ finally has his bite back after two disappointing loan spells in England, with Manchester United and Chelsea, that threatened to permanently end his reputation as being one of the best strikers on the planet.

Firing Falcao is not the man who the footballing world is talking about most though. No, that honour goes to the frighteningly-talented Kylian Mbappe, who has 13 goals in 13 starts in the league, and 23 goals in 37 games in all competitions, including five in eight in the Champions League, which Monaco are in the semi finals of for the first time since 2004, when they reached the final. Mbappe only turned 18 five days before last Christmas.

It is not unfair to say that Monaco are not the sort of club that draw admirers easily. A 2014 ‘WealthInsight’ and ‘Spears’ study found that just over 29% of its citizens is a millionaire, a higher percentage than any other city in the world. For some time the football club reflected that, with big-money fees paid for the likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez (now at Real Madrid) and Joao Moutinho.

Financial Fair Play has restricted them, however, and they now field a young side. Given that Monaco has an estimated population of just over 37,000 (2015 estimation) and their stadium, Stade Louis II, holds only 18,523, spending millions on players was unsustainable. They had to change.

Benjamin Mendy (22), Jemerson (24), Djibril Sidibe (24), Bernardo Silva (22), Fabinho (23), Tiemoue Bakayoko (22), Thomas Lemar (21) and Mbappe (18) are all starters, and that is not forgetting that Manchester United poached Anthony Martial (21) from them last summer. Their youth team got to the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League this season too, before they lost to Real Madrid.

The senior team, meanwhile are competing on all fronts – they are two games, against Juventus, away from their first Champions League final in over a decade, while they also got to the final of the French Cup, but PSG got the upper hand that time, winning 4-1.

There is something special happening in the Principality though and they could well be the next side to dominate Ligue 1, following Lyon winning it seven times on the trot from 2002 to 2008 and then PSG’s four titles in the last four seasons.

Equally as likely though, is Monaco falling away again, if Europe’s more elite clubs break this generation up over the course of this summer’s transfer window.

Should the latter happen, do not be surprised to see Les Monégasques make another comeback. All the foundations are there.

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Switzerland 2-5 France: Sorry Switzerland flattened by France

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France all but secured their passage through to the next round with a resounding 2-5 win over neighbours Switzerland in the highest scoring game of the World Cup thus far. Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema and Moussa Sissoko provided the France goals in a largely one-sided affair.

Two goals in two minutes killed Switzerland off early on in the match. The first coming when Giroud headed in Valbuena’s corner. Diego Benaglio could have done better with it but had a defender in his way that may have put him off.

Benaglio appeared to still be dwelling on the last goal but found himself picking the ball out of his net soon after. Just 13 seconds from the kick-off, France were two goals to the good. A dreadful pass by Valon Behrami was snatched upon by Benzema who fed Matuidi on his left who beat Benaglio at his near post.

It was 0-3 five minutes before half time when France broke on the counter attack. An intelligent pass from Raphael Varane found Giroud who bursted down the left and squared it to Valbuena who tapped home the third.

Les Blues should have even been four up at the break but Benzema had a penalty saved well by Benaglio after Johan Djourou fouled him in the box. Yohan Cabaye hit a rebound onto the post and out from close range.

They did have their fourth after 67 minutes though when substitute Paul Pogba’s silky pass with the outside of the boot was finished by Benzema through Benaglio’s legs after Phillipe Senderos’ attempted clearance contacted with nothing but air.

France had a fifth six minutes later when Moussa Sissoko slotted in first time. Gohkan Inler lost the ball in the midfield, France worked it to Benzema on the edge of the box who found the Newcastle man with a pass that resembled Pele’s to Carlos Alberto in the 1970 World Cup final and like Alberto, Sissoko scored with consummate ease.

Switzerland did hit back with a consolation in the last ten minutes thanks to the first goal scored from a direct free-kick with Blerim Dzemaili taking the honour. It was fortunate though as the French wall allowed it to drift through them when it should have been blocked easily.

Granit Xhaka scored a second for the Swiss three minutes from time, sweeping home a controlled volley but it was too little too late for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side.

Benzema did in fact score again when he curled home a fantastic effort from the edge of box but, in a minor blow to his Golden Boot chances, the final whistle had already gone.

France 3-0 Honduras

A fiery encounter that will live long in the memory ended 3-0 to favourites France who earned a much deserved win against a physical Honduras side.

Karim Benzema was the star of the show, scoring two goals of his own and was unfortunate to have not claimed another.

France’s second goal of the game was one of the most bizarre in World Cup history. Benzema scoring a placed volley off the inside off the post which went across the goal-line and off the Goalkeeper Noel Valladares and into the net. Or so it seemed.

Benzema appealed to the referee and the goal was given, cue celebrations but when the crowd was shown the replay “no goal” flashed up on the goal-line technology system referring to when the ball hit the post, sparking uproar from Honduras fans, players and coaching staff but more replay showed after the ball hit Valladares it was in fact a goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France's second goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France’s second goal.

Number nine Benzema bagged his brace when he thundered in a rebound following Mathieu Debuchy’s blocked cannoned shot, Valladares had little chance having just stood up after diving for Debuchy’s drive.

The sub-plot of the first half was Wilson Palacios vs the world with Paul Pogba taking most of the brunt from the brute. Palacios and Pogba both picked up yellow cards when Palacios trampled on the Juventus youngster but Pogba gave as good he got, kicking out at the Stoke man. Both could have easily seen red.

Palacios did receive his marching orders soon after when he clattered into Pogba and gave away a penalty which Benzema dispatched with ease.

Les Blues hit the crossbar twice before that, Blaise Matuidi first after his shot was tipped onto the bar by the ‘keeper following Mathieu Valbuena’s free-kick being headed into his path and then Franck Ribery replacement Antoine Griezmann cracked a header against the woodwork after Patrice Evra’s cross.

Honduras caused little damage to France in terms of goal scoring opportunities with Hugo Lloris not having to make any major saves but the tackling from Luis Suarez’s side may have left a few bruises on French legs, a real horror show from Honduras at times.