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Football: Like him or loathe him — Deschamps puts winning before all else

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Last weekend, Didier Deschamps chalked up another significant achievement in a remarkable career.

He became the longest-serving coach of France when he oversaw his 80th game as Les Bleus beat Argentina 4-3 in a thriller to go through to Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against Uruguay.

Six years have passed since he replaced Laurent Blanc, but how long he carries on could come down to what happens in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday, when France and their fearsome attack come up against the formidable Uruguayan defence.

The French Football Federation set a semi-final place as their target coming to Russia, and a last-eight exit would leave a sense of potential unfulfilled in the Deschamps era.

The FFF have said that the coach, who turns 50 this year, will stay around until 2020, when his contract expires.

Nevertheless, a disappointing exit and his position will look rather fragile at a time when Zinedine Zidane is a free man having left Real Madrid.

Many France fans will have longed for Zidane as they watched their national team’s performances in the group stage, especially in the insipid 0-0 draw with Denmark.

The display against Argentina was what the public had been crying out for, with the explosive Kylian Mbappe eclipsing Lionel Messi as the French tore apart a fragile defence.

“There has been criticism, and there always will be. But the truth comes with what happens on the pitch,” Deschamps told French television after that game.

Diego Godin and co. will not leave the same kind of space to exploit in the quarter-finals, though, as the coach looks to avoid falling at the same hurdle as four years ago, when they lost to Germany.

Since then, France have lost the Euro 2016 final on home soil to Portugal. Despite topping their qualifying group for this World Cup, the lowlights included a 0-0 draw with minnows Luxembourg.

Deschamps has Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir in his squad. Yet he has struggled to settle on the perfect system to accommodate his attacking talents, and get the best out of Paul Pogba.

Observers outside France are especially baffled how a team with such an embarrassment of riches in attack cannot play like they did against Argentina more often.

‘A leader of men’
But as Spain great Xavi Hernandez pointed out in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, it is simply that Deschamps has a style more akin to Diego Simeone than Pep Guardiola.

“He has not changed his ideas on becoming a coach: defensive solidity and counter-attack,” Xavi said.

And if anyone doubts the credentials of the coach now, then more fool them.

This is the man from the Basque Country who won everything as a player, including captaining France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. As a coach he took Monaco to the Champions League final in 2004 and ended Marseille’s long wait to win a French title.

“Deschamps is a living legend in France. His record as a player and a manager is astonishing,” says Matthew Spiro, a British football broadcaster for beIN Sports who is based in Paris.

Spiro says he understands “the clamour for more excitement”, but points out that “in six years he has picked the team up from the depths of despair and reached the World Cup quarter-finals as well as the final of the Euro.”

Calls for more flair are inevitable when Deschamps has so many brilliant players at his disposal, and his lack of charisma when he appears before the media can be frustrating.

However, the end will always justify the means, as long as he keeps on winning.

“He is a manager, a leader of men. He is a winner,” says Guy Stephan, his loyal assistant for almost a decade now.

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Football: Japan boss blasts World Cup haters, eyes new coach

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Japan’s football chief took aim at critics of the Blue Samurai on Thursday after the team’s World Cup return and confirmed he was on the lookout for a new coach.

JFA president Kozo Tashima told a news conference that caretaker boss Akira Nishino would not continue in the role after steering Japan to the knockout stages in Russia.

And after the Japan team was welcomed home by hundreds of flag-waving fans, Tashima appeared to take a veiled dig at commentators who slammed their tactics in their final group match against Poland.

Under orders from Nishino, the Japan players ran down the clock despite losing 1-0, knowing unless they picked up two yellow cards or Senegal equalised against Colombia in the other Group H game, they would go through.

“I want to thank all the people who said they hated Japan or wouldn’t support Japan anymore,” said Tashima.

“Thank you for your interest in us. There were positives and negatives but that’s all part of creating a football culture in Japan.”

Japan were knocked out in the last 16 after losing 3-2 to Belgium, who scored three goals in 25 second-half minutes to erase a two-goal deficit.

“I wanted to improve the team’s chances by one percent,” explained Tashima, who controversially axed former coach Vahid Halilhodzic two months before the World Cup.

“I asked Nishino to produce a small miracle so I’m very proud of the team’s efforts. But I will not try to persuade him to stay.”

With former JFA technical director Nishino stepping aside, former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann has already been linked to the job, along with former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Clearing up misunderstanding
“I’ve never personally felt disappointment like that before,” said Nishino, referring to the heart-breaking manner of Japan’s exit.

“I could never have imagined a scenario like that last 30 minutes.”

Nishino noted that Japan had managed to win just one game — a 1-0 victory over 10-man Colombia in their opening game.

But they twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Senegal in their next match.

“The players dug deep and found that little bit extra we needed to be competitive at the World Cup,” said Nishino.

“We knew we would have to take a few risks. The players showed incredible desire and really went for broke.”

Japan captain Makoto Hasebe exploded the myth doing the rounds on social media that the players had cleaned the dressing room and left a ‘thank you’ note after their loss to the Belgians, crediting team staff.

“We wanted to make up for going out early at the 2014 World Cup,” added Hasebe, who retired from international football after Japan’s defeat in Rostov.

“People didn’t really give us a prayer, but we were desperate to prove the doubters wrong.”

Nishino tipped Japan to reach the knockout stage at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“We’ve written a new page in history — or perhaps half-a-page,” he said.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“But the future looks bright.”

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Football: Argentine referee to officiate Uruguay vs France match

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FIFA has assigned Argentine referee, Nestor Pitana, to officiate the first quarter-final match between Uruguay and France in the ongoing Russia 2018 World Cup .

The 43-year-old referee will be assisted by compatriots Hernan Maidana and Juan Belatti. Maidana will be the Assistant Referee 1[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip](AR1) and Belatti will be the Assistant Referee 2[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip](AR2).

Pitana’s calls and decisions will be heavily scrutinized in the match with possible fears of the Argentine referee favouring Uruguay because his country was knocked out of the tournament by France in the round of 16 last Saturday in a stunning 4-3 victory.

Other officials to assist Pitana during the game are Alireza Faghani and Reza Sokhandan, both of Iran, as Reserve Assistants in the match slated for Friday.

During this World Cup, Pitana has taken charge of the Opening Match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Mexico-Sweden and Croatia-Denmark.

The build-up to Friday’s quarter-final clash between France and Uruguay has been dominated by individuals. Uruguay is hoping on the fitness of striker Edinson Cavani, it should be remembered that La Celeste’s progress in Russia has been built upon their defence as much as their A-list attack.

And while France pin their hopes on Kylian Mbappe, it is unlikely that the teenage superstar has encountered a defence quite like Uruguay’s.

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Football: Costa Rica part company with coach Ramirez

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Costa Rica’s football federation has parted ways with coach Oscar Ramirez after a disappointing World Cup showing by the Central American nation.

“Oscar Ramirez will not continue as coach, his contract has expired,” the federation’s president Rodolfo Villalobos told a press conference.

Costa Rica went out of the competition in the group stage, after failing to win a match. They lost their opening two games to Serbia and Brazil, before drawing their final game 2-2 with Switzerland.

Ramirez has been in charge since 2015, only a week after being appointed as Paulo Wanchope’s assistant. Ramirez stepped up after Wanchope was involved in a fight in Panama and resigned as head coach.

“We believe that his continuing is not appropriate or convenient, we believe in his ability, but the executive committee has decided not to renew his contract,” Villalobos said.

“I want to thank Oscar for his dedication, his professionalism, his discipline and his teaching.”

Villalobos said the Fedefut’s executive committee would now begin a search for a coach to take the team through qualification for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Costa Rica’s style came in for sharp criticism under Ramirez and drew unfavorable comparisons with their showing in the last World Cup in Brazil when they reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

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