As the World Cup draws to a close and teams, players, coaches, pundits & fans alike reflect on what was and what could have been, we at Outside of the Boot under our Talent Radar feature recognise the best young players at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The eligibility criteria for this list are all those players who were 21 and below at the start of the 2013/14 season (taken as June 1st 2013).
What was expected of him? Varane was given his International debut by Deschamps over a year ago and has actually become the first choice defender for Les Bleus, no mean feat considering that they have options such as Sakho and Koscielny to choose from. The French came into the World Cup with limited expectations especially after they took the playoff route to the World Cup. However they were lucky to be drawn in an easy group. Varane was expected to play a big role for the team in the tournament and he did just that.
How did he perform? France and Varane eased into the tournament with a comparatively easy assignment against a limited but physical Honduras side. The French registered a confidence boosting 3-0 victory. Honduras sat deep, as you’d expect and failed to pose much of an attacking threat. Once Palacios got himself sent off late in the first half, there was only going to be one winner. This all meant that Varane, playing alongside Sakho, had a comfortable time in his first World Cup appearance. In what was an uneventful game for him, he made 3 tackles ( all successful ), 12 blocks, 1 interception and 1 clearance. He also boasted a 97% passing accuracy, a stat that has to be taken with a pinch of salt though given that many of the passes were played with time and space on his hands.
Next up for Les Bleus was a Swiss side with plenty of youthful vigor on the pitch and experience in the coaching staff. The 5-2 rout saw France all but seal their place in the Round of 16. Despite the early French domination, the Swiss did have their chances especially in the first half. The French stuck to their centre-half pairing of Varane and Sakho before the latter was replaced by Koscielny in the second half. Varane was solid once again as he made 3 tackles, an interception and 2 clearances. He also completed 93% of his passes including one that was instrumental in Valbuena’s goal; a text-book counter attack. Varane received the ball on the left side and after taking a touch released Giroud on the left wing with a good early left-footed pass. Giroud in turn made no mistake in picking out Valbuena at the back post.
Deschamps opted for a much changed line-up against Ecuador and Varane was one of those rested ahead of the Round of 16. The young defender was called into action in the second half though due to Sakho’s injury. Like the game against Honduras, the French back-line enjoyed the fact that their opponents were at a numerical disadvantage for a good 40 minutes after Valencia’s sending off. Varane’s services were called upon on a couple of occasions though. Fellow substitute Ibarra got the better of Varane but the youngster recovered well to make an important clearance of the rebound. The Frenchman also made a block and didn’t misplace a single pass.
Les Bleus next locked horns with Nigeria in the Round of 16. In an entertaining game, both sides had their chances to surge ahead before a late Pogba header and a Yobo own goal put paid to the Nigerian hopes. Nigeria though created their fair share of chances and the French defence was tested. The second half especially saw the Super Eagles threaten on numerous occasions. Varane contributed to the clean sheet by making an impressive 7 clearances. He also notably did well to block an Emenike header in the 52nd minute although the latter was offside. Varane continued to showcase his calmness in possession finishing with a 89% pass completion rate.
France took on Die Mannschaft in what turned out to be their last game of the tournament. Germany were of course strong favourites in the clash but France will be disappointed that they didn’t put up more of a fight. On a personal note for Varane, he had a good game unfortunately overshadowed by the error which led to the solitary goal of the game. Varane, tasked with marking Hummels, retreated a bit early and was then unable to recover as Hummels held him off. The German defender headed the ball past Lloris and unfortunately for France and Varane, they couldn’t find an equalizer. Hummels showed his experience and made Varane pay. It must be said that Varane had a good game otherwise. He showed good positioning and made 6 clearances. He also made an important block to deny Schurrle late in the piece to keep France in the hunt, if only for a few minutes more. The youngster once again impressed with his distribution. He completed a commendable 93% of his passes including a number of incisive passes on the right to pick out Griezmann’s clever runs in behind the German defence.
Varane was entrusted by Deschamps and he repaid the faith shown in him by having a solid tournament. He showed that he’s maturing as a defender all the time and was an important component of a defence that let in just 3 goals in 5 games. The defender also enhanced his reputation as a ball playing defender. The mistake against Germany proved costly but it’s all part of his learning curve. Varane’s displays meant that he was nominated as the Best Young Player of the tournament although it was compatriot Pogba who walked away with the prize.
More from Talent Radar: Raphael Varane is of course one of the most recognizable young players in the World and has featured extensively in our Talent Radar feature. We have a detailed Scout Report on the Real Madrid defender. He also figured in our list of 25 Young Players to watch at the World Cup coming in at number 13 and his performance against Germany was analyzed here. His performances warranted inclusion in both the Best XI of the Tournament and the Best Young XI of the Tournament in our World Cup awards. He was also adjudged to be the Talent Radar Best Young Defender in the awards. Varane finished at number 2 in the defenders section of our 100 Best Young Players to watch out for in 2014, a list compiled at the start of the year.
What does the future hold for him in the national team? This might be jumping the gun but it’s hard not to consider Varane as a potential France captain in the future. At only 21, Varane has displayed a maturity beyond his years in his fledgling career and has impressed many a football fan. Deschamps’ backing of the youngster this World Cup shows just how highly rated he is within the French set-up and the sky is the limit for the central defender.