Cape Town: France are still looking to unearth a new Zinedine Zidane, but they at least seem to have found the next Patrick Vieira.
Abou Diaby was a ray a hope in France’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with Uruguay in their World Cup opener on Friday, stepping out of the shadow of Vieira, who is now in the twilight of his career and did not make the squad.
A surprise starter against Uruguay, the powerful 24-year-old midfielder was his side’s best player by a long way and now seems an automatic choice for coach Raymond Domenech.
Diaby, who had been convincing when he came on in France’s three warm-up games, treated the France fans to a performance reminiscent of Vieira.
The lanky frame and the ability to win the ball and advance it up the field with calm authority brought to mind Vieira in his pomp.
Diaby, who plays for Arsenal in the role once filled by the former France captain, is now ready to do the same for the 1998 World Cup winners.
“I tried to do my job but I really wanted us to win this game,” Diaby told reporters in Cape Town, putting aside his own display to admit it was two points dropped by France.
“Personally I think I can do even better.”
Diaby, who has had a decent season for Arsenal and earned warm praise from his club manager Arsene Wenger, knew his hour might come in South Africa for two reasons.
Fellow holding midfielder Lassana Diarra has been ruled out of the finals by illness while Domenech’s new, more attacking 4-3-3 formation suits Diaby.
“He’s an interesting player, both defensively and in attack, and he did not disappoint me,” Domenech said after Diaby advanced his case to be a regular starter.
One man alone, however, is not enough to spark a French renaissance, and Diaby realises Les Bleus, who next face Mexico and then World Cup hosts South Africa in Group A, need to translate possession into chances.
“We’re lacking something in the last 30 metres,” he said. “That’s something we’ll work on during the rest of the competition and I think we will get better.”