Thursday, 10 June 2010

32 For 2010: France

From the outside looking in, France appear to be in an enviable position. So many talented players, so much potential and yet led by such a volatile coach. One wonders quite what the fates have in store for France in South Africa this summer.

Like King Canute denying the force of the tide, Raymond Domenech has resolutely proclaimed he and his team are just fine, thank you very much, away from the continual barracking they get from the press and public alike. Truth be known, however, it’s Domenech they have a problem with rather than the players.

Going into the 2010 World Cup, there has been much outcry about the absence of such notables as Patrick Vieira, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri in the squad, but Domenech has dropped them all for his own personal reasons. In the case of Benzema, team spirit in the French squad at Euro 2008 was disrupted when he and several others formed cliques as a way harbouring their distrust of the coach, so this time the coach has left them behind. Such actions will be seen either as a show of force or a gunshot to his own foot.

Even without the above mentioned stars, Domenech does still have much talent at his disposal. In every area of the pitch there are world class players to choose from including Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Yoann Gourcuff and many more. The problem Domenech has had is finding the right blend of fitness, good form and technical ability among them to create a winning combination. Recent friendly matches such as last Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to China 1-0 suggest he’s cutting it a bit fine to arrive at the answer.

And finding the answer was something France failed to do beyond doubt in Euro 2008. Having reached the 2006 World Cup final where they were outclassed by Italy, they couldn’t even register a single win in their first round group in Switzerland two years later. The 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the Dutch all but sealed their early exit from the tournament, and ever since Domenech has struggled to hang onto any credibility.

Adding to the sense of doubt that’s been creeping into the collective mind of Les Francaise was their country’s lucky qualification for World Cup 2010. Were it not for Thierry Henry’s twitchy left hand, it might have been Ireland waiting patiently to play Uruguay in their first finals match, and the French are neither happy or proud of the fact. Finishing second in their group behind Serbia, they began their campaign with only one win in their first three games. They then had to rely on a few 1-0 wins over Lithuania and the Faroe Islands to get some points on the board before a resurgent finish got them to the play-offs.

So will France have nothing but doom and gloom to look forward to in South Africa?  Actually no, for this is a team that has had a strong pedigree for success going back over many years now. In a first round group containing Mexico, Uruguay and the hosts South Africa, they have no excuses for not getting through to the knock-out stages, but the memory of their shock early exit in 2002 still comes all too clearly to mind.

Surely it couldn’t happen again, could it? With this French team - and more specifically its quirky, belligerent manager – the feeling amongst most people is that you can’t quite discount every possibility.

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