France battle Sweden in crunch clash
By S. Willis
Les Bleus will be looking to firm their grip on top spot in World Cup qualifying Group A as they do battle with nearest rivals Sweden in Stockholm on Friday night.
Friday, June 9, 2017
World Cup 2018 qualifying, Group A - Matchday 6
Friends Arena, Solna
Sweden - France (kick-off at 20:45 CET)
At the half-way point of the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018, France sit atop the Group A standings with an undefeated record of four wins and a draw. Didier Deschamps' men, who dismantled Paraguay 5-0 in a friendly a week ago - can take a six-point lead over nearest rivals Sweden with a win at the Friends Arena on Friday night, but the France boss doesn't believe it to be a decisive match.
"There will be 12 more points up for grabs in the remaining four matches," explained the France boss, whose side trumped Sweden 2-1 at the Stade de France in November last year. "It's an important match, yes; it's the sixth out of ten qualifiers and they are our closest rivals. But we cannot say it is a decisive match."
Deschamps, tipped to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation with last Friday's hat-trick hero Olivier Giroud at centre-forward with Atlético Madrid superstar Antoine Griezmann just behind him, is typically wary of boastful proclamations, especially when a side are as strong at home as Sweden have been so far in the campaign.
Despite being held by the Netherlands in Solna on Matchday 1, Sweden have since hammered Bulgaria 3-0 and Belarus 4-0 on home soil, and Deschamps believes that the Scandinavians have adapted well to the post-Zlatan era.
"This Sweden side have adapted well since Zlatan Ibrahimovic's retirement from international football," said Deschamps, set to hand starts to wide men Moussa Sissoko and Dimitri Payet, with Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi in defensive midfield roles. "They have a well-oiled team and systematically use a 4-4-2 that stays organised. Their two strikers play extremely well together and they have a lot of pace out on the flanks."
In defence, Deschamps is tipped to swap Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti for the more experienced Raphaël Varane of Real Madrid, with Djibril Sidibé and Benjamin Mendy to reprise successful stints at right- and left-back respectively.
France: Lloris (c); Sidibé, Varane, Koscielny, Mendy; Sissoko, Pogba, Matuidi, Payet; Griezmann, Giroud
Sweden: Olsen; Lustig, Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Durmaz, Johansson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Berg, Guidetti