Population: 60,700,000
Area: 547,030 km²
Capital: Paris
Language: French

France won a very tight UEFA group 4 two points ahead of Switzerland and Israel.
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Mar 01 France v Slovakia 1-2
May 27 France v Mexico 1-0
May 31 France v Denmark 2-0
Jun 07 France v China 3-1

Participations: (11) 1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Winners 1998
Topscorer: Just Fontaine, 13 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 13 - FRA v SWI  in Stuttgart
Jun 18 - FRA v KOR  in Leipzig
Jun 23 - FRA v TOG  in Cologne

- France in Group G -
Jan Alsos: 1st place
Pierre Boisrond: 1st place
Ruud Doevendans: 2nd place
Mike Gibbons: 1st place
Peter Goldstein: 2nd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 1st place
Felipe Santos: 1st place


by Mike Gibbons

    Perhaps of all of the usual suspects when the World Cup comes round, France seem to have been written off by more than all the others; even Germany, weaker than at perhaps anytime since the War, as hosts cannot be entirely discounted. Just last week Marcel Desailly added his name to the growing list of former players and pundits who have dismissed Les Bleus chances this summer. This feeling has hardly been alleviated by the recent 2-1 home loss to a modest Slovakian side but perhaps stems from their ill-fated defence of the title they won so gloriously on home soil in 1998. Shorn for much of the tournament of Zinedine Zidane they departed ignominiously, goalless and humiliated, and a disappointing defence of the European title two years later further enhanced the belief that we were witnessing a team in terminal decline.

    An unconvincing qualifying campaign for Germany seemed to confirm this and illustrated their over reliance on Zidane who by this time had retired from the international scene. In the least engrossing European qualifying group France finally came through a tortuous campaign that brought them just 5 wins – 4 of which came against Cyprus and the Faeroe Islands. An inability to kill teams off and defend a lead cost them points against Israel and Switzerland though they were finally able to hold on in Dublin and come away with three crucial points. The final table may have looked relatively comfortable but 11 of their 14 goals came against the group minnows and the sight of Zidane – along with Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram - coming out of retirement as crunch time approached was hardly a glowing endorsement of the next generation.

    So why have France seemingly fallen so far, from champions to seemingly also rans? Opinion seems to be divided; it’s either a lack of outstanding young talent, or a coach that won’t allow the young talent available to come through. Raymond Domenech was far from a universal choice when asked to move up from the under 21’s to replace Jacques Santini following Euro 2004 and this unpopularity seems to have spread to the players. Domenech had very publicly fallen out with both Mikael Silvestre and Robert Pires, though the former has since been recalled. It was noticeable however that both cited a lack of communication between coach and players and the unhealthy atmosphere in the squad that this created. What is undisputable is that core of the squad is likely to one of the most experienced in the competition which will stand them in good stead though many would like to see this core supplemented by some of the exciting young talent that certainly seems to be available. In the play offs for the European under-21 championships France beat a strong English side with the outstanding Franck Ribery the fulcrum of an attacking French team. It is Ribery that has been the most talked about and most likely of the next generation to force their way into contention but so far Domenech has seemed unwilling to pick him. The pessimism about France’s chances this summer has its root in the widespread disillusion about this conservatism.

    But is the pessimism warranted? The draw has certainly done France no harm. Togo are relatively untested at this level and South Korea have never won a game in the finals on foreign soil. Although there is no question that they have improved dramatically over the past few years it would still be a surprise if the Koreans were to trouble France and the other European side in the group, Switzerland. The Swiss have a young, improving squad and held the French home and away in qualifying. However this may prove to be a tournament too soon and they may settle for their young players gaining valuable experience before co-hosting the 2008 European Championships. Should France win the group they will be paired with the runner up from group H – one of Spain, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia or Tunisia – none of whom a side with the quality that the French can boast should particularly fear. From there Italy or the Czech Republic are the most likely quarter final opponents.

    In addition to a favourable draw, the squad retains more quality than most. Any side that boasts a front two of Henry and Trezeguet deserves respect and the options from the bench – to be taken from the likes of Cisse, Saha, Anelka, Govou and Wiltord – are more than respectable. They conceded just two goals during qualification though recent friendlies have seen them prove to be a little more porous. The return of the outstanding Thuram brings a wealth of experience, Gallas and Sagnol are proven internationals and with the highly rated Squillaci and the rejuvenated Philippe Mexes also pushing for a place the French should be fairly hard to break down. Gregory Coupet is likely to keep goal ahead of Fabien Barthez after several outstanding seasons for Lyon. Strangely enough therefore, given the quality in evidence, the most prescient questions are likely to be asked of the midfield. On paper Zidane, Makelele, Vieira and Guily are a quartet to challenge and threaten any side; though only Guily is anywhere near his prime and the alternatives are not of the same quality. Zidane has been a shadow of his former self and the way in which an ebullient young Arsenal side rang rings round him recently in the Champions League was not befitting arguably the greatest player of his generation. As with many great players one they enter their twilight years the brain is still there, still one step ahead but the devastating acceleration that left so many players in his wake has gone.

    Vieira too has supposedly seen better days, sold by Arsenal and with major questions dogging him about his fitness. For a time before Christmas it looked as the old Vieira had returned - given new life by his move to Juventus, but since the turn of the year the performances have dipped and he has received widespread criticism from Juve fans. He, like Zidane a round before, was made to look pedestrian and indeed ordinary by a rampant Arsenal side. In this light the continued exclusion of Ribery seems strange and with over 40 players selected since the European Championships not to have looked at him once appears a major oversight. Major championships are littered with examples of serious young talent blossoming on the biggest stage and the value of a wild card to throw on when the game needs to be turned should mitigate in favour of a player such as Ribery.

    France won’t win this tournament, at least not unless the likes of the Italians and the Argentineans fail to escape from tough first round groups, but neither should they be completely discounted; they have too much talent and experience and crucially the draw has worked in their favour. Add to this the desire to erase the painful memories of four years ago and the quarter finals at least surely beckon. With a potentially very difficult European Championship qualifying campaign looming the recall of the big names from previous campaigns seems to suggest that the French are putting all of their eggs into the World Cup basket.




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