Before tonight's U21 European Championship qualifier against Belarus, France had five wins from five games and were comfortably strolling through Group 10.
Tonight they continued to stroll, but in a negative sense, despite their 15 shots on goal, they couldn't find a way past a stubborn defence. Step-forward Chelsea new boy Kurt Zouma. His left-foot strike finding the bottom corner and in turn saving Les Bleus' 100% record for this qualifying campaign.
Zouma the hero on the night, and he had been absolutely superb for the whole game. The French back-line kept the Belarus attack out despite their numerous counter-attacks. With Zouma at the heart of the defence, they only let the Eastern European side get one shot on goal, it failed to find the target.
Playing in only his second Under 21 match, Zouma was at his imperious best. Rarely troubled in the air, he nearly scored a header in the first half, showing his tremendous aerial prowess before the referee judged he had fouled the goalkeeper.
It was his 35th cap for the various French youth sides that he has represented since the U16 level, and if he continues to play like that there is a great chance he will make the full squad come the 2016 European Championships.
By then, the hope is he will be an integral part of the Chelsea side. Zouma is undoubtedly the ready-made replacement for Chelsea’s current leader and captain, John Terry. He is already bigger, stronger and faster than the former England captain ever was. With every game he plays while back on-loan at Saint-Etienne, you can see the improvements to his game.
It has been an up and down season for the 19-year-old. After starting the season well, he had to serve a 10-game ban after breaking the leg of Sochaux's Thomas Guerbert, but since his return he has been excellent. Saint-Etienne are currently fourth, and have aspirations of playing in the Champions League. What a leaving present it would be if Zouma’s performances could inspire Les Verts to a top three finish this season.
images: © KevFB