Viva le France – the French are always contenders even if they resemble a bit more of a circus this time round.
• Nickname: Les Bleus
• Colors: Blue, white and red
• FIFA Ranking: 10
• How They Got Here: Finished second in European qualification group; threw the ball into the net to see of Ireland
• World Cup pedigree: 12 World Cups, 1 title (’98, when they hosted), second place (’06) and third place (’58, ’86).
The French seem to have a never ending production line of talent and this time round it’s no different. They’ll be in the mix once again and face immense pressure from the French public to perform consistently. Les Blues have a youthful and attack minded squad – full of players smattered across the biggest clubs in Europe. They have a clown of a manager, Raymond Domenech, who is stifling conservative and old fashioned, not to mention his stubborn persona. Rest assure, when the French lose to South Africa 7-0, we’ll have to watch Domenech put on another one of those disbelief-type performances for the press. The French will have lofty ambitions and will expect nothing less than final 4 football.
It is unbelievable that this bloke remains in charge. It’s almost as though the media has given up leaking rumours of him being sacked. I suppose he’s shown stickability. But he hasn’t shown much else. And it’s not just the press and public that is calling for his head, with players (there are countless quotes) often remarkably condemning the gaffer. He is known to leave his starting 11 up to the astrological signs of the day and they only just scraped into the Cup. It really is remarkable to even consider them missing out with their talent. This guy truly is the mickey mouse of this year’s tournament (despite one Maradona!)
Franck Ribery (midfielder, Bayern Munich)
Ribery is one of the hottest properties in world football and the majority of the French attack will flow through his feet. Ribery started the trend of inside out wingers, who offer a direct goal threat more than a passing/crossing one. He has been prolific for Bayern and will replace the figure of Zizuo who was so pivotal in their previous outings. Recently, however, Ribery’s shady character has come to the fore and his underage prostitution case in France, which is only one of about a billion controversies swirling around the French camp, could affect him in South Africa. If the French go far, he could be a roughie for player of the tournament.
Thierry Henry (forward, Barcelona) and the French national side conjure up all those images of his infamous hand ball that led to emergency political meetings between the respective nations. He’ll be an important cog, whether he features predominantly or not, as he adds some much needed experience to the youthful pot. Karim Benzema (forward, Real Madrid) has been linked to every club in the world in a typically media driven chase for his wares. He’s in and out of the starting side at Madrid and has not been a regular in Domenech’s setup to say the least. If he makes the pitch then he is a dangerous quantity who shouldn’t leave the Froggies short for goals. William Gallas (defender, Arsenal) hasn’t had the most spectacular season for the Gunners, but is one of those tough and experienced defenders that every side needs. He’ll be right at the heart of their defence which is certainly not the side’s strong suit.
Yoann Gourcuff (attacking midfielder, Bordeaux) has remained an unknown quantity purely because of the relatively low coverage and interest in the French league. Rest assured he is a rare talent. More than Ribery, he is a direct replacement for Zidane and plays the creative role for the side. Gourcuff was the irresistible driving force behind Bordeaux’s rise to the crest of French football. Many pundits looked at the Frenchman to bring back the traditional number 10 to world football, however, recently the experts have regarded him as a holding midfielder who’ll line up next to the solid if not spectacular Diarra. Yoann is one of those players with big expectations and is primed to break through to the elite group at the top of world football. Watch for him to become a household name in June.
The Likely Villian
This picture just about sums it all up…
Despite their prolific attacking side, Domenech refuses to get rid of his beloved two holding midfielders and favours leaving just the one striker on the paddock. This is the most obvious example of the manager relying on his tactics in Germany and a failure to evolve with the world game. Almost every side in Germany played the 4-2-3-1 and the French will line up like this once again – sigh.
IT’S SORTA LIKE…
“She’s Out of My League”
Domench is the nerdy guy and the French team are the really hot blonde. No one thinks it should work (and, more often than not, it doesn’t) but somehow they are holding the relationship together.
The French drink more bottled water per capita than any other nation in the world. (Useless)
The Fairytale Script
The French dispatch all those pre-cup doubts with three emphatic wins in the group and proceed to the final four where Ribery scores a trademark thunderbolt from well outside the box to send them to the final. Screw that – the real fairytale here could come for Ireland. It’s the 22nd of June and it’s late on in the final group match. The French are being held by a stubborn home side who are still harbouring hopes of a remarkable qualification. The Mexicans are sitting pretty on top of the group and with their two wins and one loss, so the French are staring down the barrel of a first round exit. Gourcuff passes to Ribery who switches to the forward run of Malouda. The Chelsea star whips in a fizzing ball towards the substitute Henry who rises above the Afrikaaners and punches the ball into the top left net. The referee (and karma) blow the whistle ruling the goal out and giving Thierry a straight red. South Africa hold on and the French are sent packing.
The Final Verdict
Despite the circus that the side has become, the French still possess one of the most potent attacking forces in the comp and are really only the laughing stock of the top 6 sides, rather than the laughing stock of the tournament. In Germany, similar doubts were harboured and they proved everyone wrong. Ribery, undeniably, is capable of that wonder goal that could send them into the second week of July. However, being the combustible commodity that they have become, a similar scenario to 2002 (where Senegal became everyone’s second favourite side) could ensue, despite their easy group. If they don’t win the group, then a mouth-watering match up with Argentina will result.
Outstanding attacking weapons + Strong reputation and history – Domenech – Domenech – not a title winning defence – Domenech = top of the group and a quarter final farewell, as the Poms finally win a penalty shootout.