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KAZAN, Russia, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - A stodgy first performance against a gutsy Australia was enough to take France top of their group at the World Cup, but Didier Deschamps' side showed little to give tournament heavyweights like Brazil anything to worry about.

Les Bleus instead head into their next clash, against Peru in Ekaterinburg on Thursday, with lingering queries over their forward line's effectiveness, and with their rivals emboldened that they could upset the 1998 champions.

Deschamps has placed great stock in the team's young talents, rewarding Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele with starting roles in the front three with Antoine Griezmann at Kazan Arena.

Yet it took the experienced campaigner Olivier Giroud to break the deadlock as he came off the bench to feed Paul Pogba for his late winner.

The result aside, Bert van Marwijk's well-drilled Socceroos put in a heroic defensive effort to stifle their opponents at Kazan Arena.

“In a lot of moments they didn't know what to do any more,” the Dutchman stated bluntly, but correctly, of the French.

While Australia's Switzerland-based central defender Trent Sainsbury boosted his hopes of graduating to a higher European league, the 36th-ranked Socceroos lack anything that could be described as a world class backline.

How France will hope to crack open the more highly rated Group C rivals Peru and Denmark, let alone a German or Spanish stonewall, is sure to preoccupy their 1998 World Cup hero Deschamps in the coming days.

The 49-year-old has an embarrassment of riches in his playing squad, but the Socceroos result showed he has yet to determine how best to deploy them.

The loss of Djibril Sidibe was a blow, forcing Benjamin Pavard to play at right back after operating mostly as a central defender for Bundesliga side Stuttgart.

Pavard performed admirably, but there were problems further up the field.

While France looked dangerous going forward in the opening 15 minutes, once a nervous Australia had time to settle the picture changed.

From there, the midfield trio of Corentin Tolisso, N'Golo Kante and Pogba struggled to give good service to the forwards, all of whom showed impressive pace but little invention.

Although Pogba scored the winner, it was hardly a scintillating performance, and questions about his role in the side will remain.

Deschamps has gone to great lengths to accommodate him, including implementing a 4 -3-3 formation to give the Manchester United playmaker more latitude.

“It suits him very well because he has the freedom to go forward, which he would not be at liberty to do if we were playing with two defensive midfielders,” said Deschamps.

The manager suggested he would persist with the set-up and was defiant that his team had done everything asked of them, except produce more pace in their transitions forward.

 

PARIS, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Hindered by strikes and outdated equipment, French air traffic control is responsible for a third of aviation delays in Europe, Le Parisien said on Monday, citing a senate finance committee report.

Between 2004 and 2016, French air traffic controllers were on strike 254 days, while second-placed Greece only had 46 days of stoppages, Italy 37 and Germany four, according to the report seen by the daily.

“Every day of a strike in France has a much bigger impact on European traffic than (strikes) in other European countries”, the report’s author, senator Vincent Capo-Canellas, noted after six months of work including numerous field visits.

In addition to frequent industrial action France is also the champion for delays, linked to obsolescent equipment, the report said.

“Our country is responsible for 33 per cent of delays due to air traffic control in Europe,” Capo-Canellas said, representing 300 million euros in annual losses for airlines.

“In France, the control equipment is outdated,” and maintenance costs are high at 136 million euros a year, added Capo-Canellas.

“We are way behind our neighbours,” the senator complained, despite France having spent more than two billion euros to modernise air traffic control since 2011.

The report also noted that the 4,000 French air traffic controllers have to cope with a sharp increase in traffic each year.

They controlled more than 3.1 million flights in 2017, up four per cent from 2016 and 8.6 per cent from 2015.

SARANSK, Russia, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Striker Paolo Guerrero played only for 30 minutes in Peru's 1-0 opening World Cup loss to Denmark, but his impressive form after a long doping ban already indicates he'll likely play a bigger role in his country's next match against France.

Coach Ricardo Gareca kept Guerrero on the bench at the start of the game in Saransk, which upset tens of thousands of fans who showed up at the 44,000-seater Mordovia Arena. He waited an hour, until after Peru had wasted several opportunities - including one from the penalty spot - to send on the team's all-time leading scorer.

A Guerrero header two minutes later forced Denmark's Kasper Schmeichel into a save. Three minutes later the 34-year-old Guerrero, who played only a handful of games this year, almost equalized for Peru with a clever backheel kick.

Overall, his presence gave Peru more structure in attack and had the other benefit for his team of drawing Denmark's defense, creating opportunities for Yoshimar Yotun in the middle.

"I saw him doing well. He adapted to the atmosphere of the game quickly," Gareca said in his post-match news conference.

Peru faces France on Thursday in a potentially decisive match in Pool C, and that puts Guerrero right into the frame to start.

"What we need now is to analyze the match against France and pick the best settings," Gareca said. "We need to digest this defeat and deal with France as quickly as possible."

Veteran Peru player Jefferson Farfan, who played up front on Saturday, suggested his close friend deserved to be in the starting lineup for the next game.

"We have to think of France, forget this match and start from scratch," Farfan said.
"Guerrero once more proved he is key for this group of players."

Guererro was Peru's top goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying, netting five in the campaign. But he has played few games since FIFA's initial suspension in November.

He blamed his doping test failure on a tainted cup of tea at a Lima hotel.

The veteran striker didn't have any qualms about being kept on the bench for Peru's first match, saying he "respects the decision of the professor."

"Whenever he needs me, I will be ready. The next match will be tough, but we have the means to win it," Guererro said.

The victory gave Denmark a crucial advantage over Peru in Group C after France edged Australia 2-1 earlier in the day.

 

PARIS, June 17, 2018 (AFP) - Paris and Berlin are very close to an agreement on eurozone reform after months of divisions, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has said.

"An agreement is close at hand," Le Maire said on Twitter late Saturday after final negotiations on the subject with this German counterpart in the northern German city of Hamburg.

The minister added that he hoped an agreement could be finalised on Tuesday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are scheduled to meet near Berlin.

Paris and Berlin are racing to bridge the gap between Macron's vision of grand European Union reforms and Chancellor Angela Merkel's more prudent approach by a crunch eurozone summit on June 29.

"There are two or three remaining issues" to sort out, a European source close to the negotiations told AFP. "But these are clearly defined and limited."

The source added that "real progress had been made on the sensitive issues that remained to be decided, especially regarding the eurozone budget."

Germany and other northern European states have baulked at Macron's calls to give the eurozone its own big budget, fearing the more fiscally prudent north will have to pick up the tab for overspending by the more profligate south.

Earlier this month, Merkel made some concessions, agreeing to support Macron's call for an investment fund to help poorer European countries catch up in the areas of science, technology and innovation.

But the size of the fund remains a major bone of contention, with Merkel saying it should be "at the lower end of the double-digit billions of euros range", while Macron has called for a budget amounting to "the equivalent of several points of the GDP of the eurozone".

The French president is on a drive to reconcile Europeans with the EU after years of austerity and mass migrant flows have helped fuel the rise of anti-immigrant and nationalist parties.

He has championed EU reform proposals such as a common finance minister and budget.

KAZAN, Russia, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - If Didier Deschamps was looking for answers to his tactical headaches, he certainly didn't find any during France's World Cup opener.

One thing, however, was clear to the French coach: having three top-class strikers assembled does not solve all problems.

The most optimistic fans of Les Bleus will remember that France started its campaign in Russia with a 2-1 win over Australia. But given the quality packed in the squad, the result was just disappointing.

Coming into the game with a three-pronged attack made of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, France created very little and ultimately needed a controversial penalty and a lucky goal to prevail.

The European championship runner-ups played well during the opening 10 minutes at Kazan Arena but then faded. The three forwards didn't link up properly and failed to create movement and space up front.

Ball transmission was also a problem for France as Paul Pogba and Corentin Tolisso never set up a quick tempo in midfield, letting their rivals slow down play.

And that's quite worrying for a team with ambitions of winning the World Cup.

"We have not played a great game," Deschamps admitted. "I think we lacked some speed in the passes, and we did not push forward or move backward very quickly."

Deschamps has been tinkering with his tactics and has yet to find the most suitable system for his talented but unexperienced team. At an average age of 24 years, the lineup fielded against the Socceroos was the youngest French side to feature at a World Cup since 1930.

Deschamps said age wasn't the issue, as most of his players have gained valuable experience with their clubs in big European leagues and championships.

France, however, improved after Deschamps brought in as second-half substitutes the seasoned Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi.

Giroud made the decisive pass that led to Pogba's late winner, and Matuidi helped France recover the ball higher on the pitch and accelerate play with his neat one-touch football.

"We have many young players, it's logical that they were a bit shaky at the start," Matuidi said. "They are talented. Talent is important, but not enough. We are going to work to be more aggressive."

To muscle up his team for the next game against Peru in Group C, Deschamps may be tempted to include Matuidi in his starting lineup, and revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Giroud and Griezmann up front.

Griezmann, the top scorer at the 2016 Euro, was replaced by Giroud after 70 minutes but Deschamps on Sunday said Griezmann remains "the leader of our attack."

"He needs to do more, and knows it," Deschamsp said. "But it does not call into question his starting spot for Thursday's game."

KAZAN, Russia, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - France needed the help of the first World Cup penalty awarded after a video review and a deflected Paul Pogba goal to get their World Cup campaign underway with a 2-1 win over Australia Saturday.

Striker Antoine Griezmann lashed home the historic spot kick in the 58th minute but Australia hit back with a penalty of their own when Samuel Umtiti inexplicably handled the ball in the box four minutes later.

Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak sent his French counterpart Hugo Lloris the wrong way to give Australia hopes of forcing a draw at the Kazan Arena but Pogba grabbed the winner in the 81st minute.

Even that goal might not have counted in the days before technology was brought into the game with Pogba's shot looping off the shin of Aziz Behich, hitting the crossbar and bouncing down inside the goal before coming back out.

Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha checked the goal-line monitor on his watch and awarded the goal as Australia keeper Mat Ryan stood holding the ball in his hands.

Cunha had earlier watched the challenge by Josh Risdon on Griezmann on the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) monitor by the side of the pitch and decided the Australia right back had brought the French striker down in the area.

France's youthful attack ensured they had the better of the opening half of the match but Australia had the best chance before the break when a deflection off Frenchman Corentin Tolisso from an Aaron Mooy free kick was well saved by Lloris.

Didier Deschamps's France side will move on to their remaining Group C clashes against Denmark and Peru, who meet later on Saturday, with three points but plenty to do to justify their place among the pre-tournament favourites.

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