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France must deal with new pressure of expectation

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm •  Published: June 21, 2014

RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — Having captured people's attention at the World Cup with some scintillating attacking football, France's players are now in unknown territory after raising expectations back home.

"Vertigineux" (vertiginous) was the front page headline of sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday, illustrating how France has hit new heights with a photo of striker Olivier Giroud leaping into the arms of his teammates after scoring in Friday's 5-2 rout of Switzerland. The emphatic victory followed a 3-0 win over Honduras in the team's opener in Group E.

"No one was expecting this result," center half Raphael Varane said Saturday. "We exceeded our expectations and it surprised us in a positive way."

Le Parisien's headline translated as "We Love These Blues," reflecting how France has won the fans over again after the World Cup shambles of four years ago, when its reputation hit rock-bottom following a training ground strike.

Now France, which faces Ecuador on Wednesday, has to back up its early promise.

"We have to stay humble because we know that people will be expecting much more from us now," said Mathieu Valbuena, who scored one goal and set up another for Giroud.

None of the current France players have been in this position before at a World Cup. They were more used to hostile criticism from the media and the jeers of their home fans amid the fallout of that infamous strike.

"We can't get carried away because the road is still long," captain Hugo Lloris said. "It's the job of the older players to get the message across to the younger ones."

The European Championship two years ago repaired the damage a little, but the performance in the quarterfinal defeat to Spain was unconvincing. France then struggled to qualify for the World Cup, beating Ukraine 3-2 in a tense two-leg playoff.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, France was on the verge of elimination and dug deep.

"The match against Ukraine triggered everything," Valbuena said. "If we played like that and did nothing afterward then it would have been for nothing."

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