Friday, the French National Team announced that Ballon d’Or 2013 finalist, Franck Ribery, has been ruled out of World Cup 2014 due to injury. The French and Bayern Munich superstar aggravated a back injury in training and will not be able to recoup in time to play in Brazil.
This makes an already challenging Grop E situation tougher for Coach Didier Deschamps who has one more friendly, against Jamaica on Sunday, to figure out how to set his team up without his ace for matches against Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras, which begin June 15. Ribery joins a growing list of players not making their anticipated flights to Brazil.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, France’s Group E opponent, Ecuador, showcased their team’s strengths by drawing with England, 2-2 in Miami. England seemed to be playing with a mix of line-ups that gave the match an experimental feel, as if Coach Roy Hodgson needed to make some last minute calculations on the way to Brazil, while Ecuador Coach, Reinaldo Rueda, also took the opportunity to try out some new wrinkles.
The match results were mixed for both sides. For England, an injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely keep him out of action for at least two weeks. Hodgson has given him up until 24 hours prior to the first game to get back. Also worrisome for Hodgson was the red card earned by Raheem Sterling for a thoughtlessly rough tackle, on a meaningless sideline tussle, that provoked an angry reaction from victim Antonio Valencia whose retaliatory grab by the neck soon had both players sent off.
The game began with Ecuador opening the score off a pretty cross that found Enner Valencia heading mostly unopposed, between Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw, into the net at the ninth minute. England’s response, at the 28th minute was sloppy goal that seemed to come about after a hand ball by Rickie Lambert started a series of ricochets that ended with Wayne Rooney kicking in from less than two feet out. England’s second goal, by Lambert at the 51st, was a powerful shot from the right of the box. The 70th minute tie breaker, by Michael Arroyo, was just a beautiful strike.
Wednesday saw a number of other World Cup 2014 bound teams hold their final or next to final tune up matches prior to leaving for Brazil. The Netherlands, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, were among the teams playing friendlies at home and abroad. Most teams were intent on confidence building encounters
The Dutch, playing in Amsterdam, against lowly Wales without Gareth Bale, managed an unconvincing 2-0 win and seemed still unsure of themselves or perhaps of Coach Luis van Gaal’s preferred system (5-3-2). Furthermore, Robin van Persie’s substitution seemed to revive fears of his injury-plagued latter half of the Premiership season.
Argentina, playing in Buenos Aires, and oviously looking for a crowd pleasing confidence booster against super-minnows Trinidad and Tobago, managed a sloppy 3-0 win featuring pin-ball scores and many missed opportunities. The goal scorers, Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodriguez, and Rodrigo Palacio, were indicative of the random nature of the scoring.
Uruguay, playing in Montevideo against Slovenia had no problems dispatching Slovenia 2-0 with goals from Edinson Cavani and Christian Stuani.
Italy, playing in Perugia against lowly Luxembourg, managed a 1-1 draw with Mario Balotelli’s impressive form perhaps the highlight of the match. The Italians pulled ahead early when Balotelli’s brilliant chip-cross found Claudio Marchisio who headed on the run at the ninth minute to open the score. The match showed, again, that Italy could keep weak adversaries at bay but that their defense would have to tighten up for tougher opposition. The visitors managed their equalizer, via Maxime Chanot, at the 85th minute.
Chile, playing in Santiago, had little trouble beating Northern Ireland 2-0 with goals from Mauricio Pinilla and Eduardo Vargas.