'Little bike' Valbuena on track for World Cup role
France's forward Mathieu Valbuena gives a press conference in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, on May 28, 2014 - by Franck Fife
Valbuena -- known affectionately as the 'little bike' due to his diminutive stature (1.67m) -- laid on three assists for his teammates at the Stade de France in the first of Les Bleus' three pre-World Cup friendlies and labelled the performance as one of his best.
"It was one of my best matches, especially as it was part of a good team victory, where we won 4-0. I also set up three of the four goals, so I played a decisive role," said Valbuena, who endured a difficult season with Marseille.
The midfielder, who was part of the France squad that returned home in disgrace after their catastrophic 2010 World Cup finals campaign, scored just three times in Ligue 1 this past season to go along with just six assists and even lost his place in the Marseille team towards the end of the campaign.
"With OM things didn't go how I wanted them to. It was a difficult year both individually and collectively," said the 29-year-old, who added he had never "hidden his desire to play somewhere else".
However, his problems at club level contrast with his experiences while representing his country.
"Playing with the national team is something different, my performances have been consistent since the coach (Didier Deschamps) arrived two years ago.
"There is this confidence, but I like also the energy of the team and it's great. I'm lucky to be in this squad and I'm very happy.
"We play a 4-3-3 and I start out on the right. However, I have a bit of freedom to roam the pitch, to play in pockets of space and down the line. But I do also share my defensive duties," said Valbuena, who is ostensibly competing for a starting place with Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann.
Asked whether he felt he had done enough following Tuesday's excellent display to earn the nod ahead of the inexperienced Griezmann for France's opening match against Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15, Valbuena said he would leave that decision to others.
"I'll let you discuss that," he said.
"I do my job on the pitch, I have the confidence of the coach and my teammates. Nothing is ever assured and I know what I'm talking about. The goal is simply to be ready for June 15 and I'll just continue to very humbly go about my business."
France only qualified for the World Cup after staging a remarkable recovery to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit against Ukraine.
A brace from Mamadou Sakho and a Karim Benzema goal steered France to a 3-0 victory in the return leg in Paris, punching the team's ticket to the finals.
However, Valbuena sounded a note of caution for French fans buoyed by the extraordinary turnaround, tempering expectations for the team in Brazil.
"The good vibes date back to the play-off second leg against Ukraine that rekindled the flame at the Stade de France.
"We feel the prevailing sense of enthusiasm even if it you can't tell and we have to keep this spirit going because the competition starts very soon.
"(But) you've got to keep your head on your shoulders," said the midfielder.