RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — Mathieu Valbuena didn't play a single minute for France at the European Championship two years ago. Now he is an integral part of the team and making a name for himself at the World Cup.
Valbuena, who scored one goal and made another in the 5-2 win against Switzerland, is the only player in the squad to have played every game since coach Didier Deschamps replaced Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012.
"It was very hard to take," Valbuena said Monday of his experience at the last European Championship. "But that's in the past. I've been pretty consistent for a while now playing in a role wide right which suits me well, where I can cut inside a lot."
It's been a difficult journey for the 29-year-old Valbuena, his team's smallest player at 1.63 meters (5 foot 4 inches).
He has faced criticism throughout his career, since being released by Bordeaux in his late teens and dropping down to third-tier Libourne.
"Nothing's ever come easy for me, nothing's been handed to me on a plate," said the attacking midfielder, who stands to win his 37th cap against Ecuador in Friday's Group E game, where a draw is enough to guarantee top spot for France.
Valbuena was a peripheral figure at the last World Cup, making one substitute appearance in a team that shocked a nation by going on strike at training.
After forcing himself into Blanc's side before Euro 2012, he was then dropped to the bench. He never complained, as if he was somehow expecting it.
"People have always questioned me. That's been the way throughout my career, and it will continue to be," he said. "Maybe a bit less now, but that doesn't mean I'm going to ease up. You can't take anything for granted in football."
He knows better than most.
Despite a decade spent coming up through the ranks, Bordeaux released him 10 years ago.
"At one stage my size worked against me," he said. "People are quick to point it out when you don't play well."