For goalkeeper Mickael Landreau, France’s 1-0 loss to Germany in today’s quarter-final was more than just the end of his journey at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ - it was the final act of his professional career.
“It’s never easy to end this way,” the 35-year-old custodian told FIFA, trying his hardest to smile in adversity. “It was a strange afternoon. It was tough, frustrating, and obviously I’m never going to forget it. We had our moments during the game, but we’re still a very young team.”
Born in the 1970s, Landreau was the only member of the Bleus squad around when his nation suffered consecutive exits at the hands of Germany FR at Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986, and was fully aware of the history surrounding today’s meeting at the Maracana.
Reflecting on France’s missed opportunity to avenge those two defeats, he said: “There really wasn’t much in it. We had the team to go through and we made them think, but we don’t have the top-level experience that they’ve got.”
Nor do the French have Manuel Neuer between the posts either. While there can be no criticising Hugo Lloris for his near-flawless performance, which included two superb reflex saves in the closing stages, the German keeper was perfection personified.
“Today Neuer showed his understanding of what a keeper can bring to a team,” enthused Landreau. “He’s a genuine part of the team. He’s strong in the air and he’s strong on the ground. He’s one of the best in the world right now.
“Finishing off at the Maracana, against him, at a time when he’s at his peak, is like fate smiling on me. I’ve played a few matches against him and I saw him make his debut. And tonight he went and asked me for my jersey. I have to say I was moved.”
It is reasonable to assume that the German was too, given Landreau’s status as a French footballing institution. “He’s had a magnificent career. Today was his last appearance but he’s going to start a new life now and I wish him the very best,” his coach Didier Deschamps told FIFA.
The holder of the Ligue 1 appearance record, having played his 795th top-flight match last season, with Bastia, Landreau has been involved in the national team set-up since Germany 2006. Given his longevity and consistency, he is well placed to comment on the recent progress made by Les Bleus.
Turning the corner
“There’s been a big investment in terms of work, the squad and on a human level, which is why the feeling right now is one of frustration and disappointment,” commented Landreau, who did not form part of the Bleus squad that suffered a humiliating exit at South Africa or the team that failed to live up to expectations at UEFA EURO 2012.
“If you look at our performance and the image we’ve projected, though, I think that this World Cup has been very positive and important for the France team and our country. Something has happened here in Brazil, and the team’s only going to get stronger. We’ve got EURO 2016 coming, and the experience we’ve picked up here is going to stand us in good stead.”
That is the legacy of France’s Brazil 2014 campaign. While they still have records to set straight, such as their winless record against Germany in the World Cup, the ghosts of recent tournaments have at least been laid to rest.
“I’m very proud of what my players have achieved in this tournament,” said Deschamps. “They weren’t that far short today, and we were up against a side that is used to playing these big games and has the experience to go with it. We just lacked that little bit you need to get the job done. This team is young and has a lot of quality in both footballing and mental terms. We need to build on those attributed ahead of our next big tournament – EURO 2016.”
While Landreau’s story has come to an end, that of Deschamps’ Bleus has only just begun.