World Cup 2014: Can France Banish Demons in South America?
The French national team spectacularly imploded during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with Raymond Domenech’s side crashing out of the tournament, bottom of Group A with a solitary point, as humiliation engulfed one of the most well respected footballing nations on the planet.
Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion from the squad following a bitter altercation with Domenech heralded an unprecedented backlash from the remaining players, who refused to train in the aftermath, as French football plunged into crisis.
“I am disgusted, I am quitting my post,” FFF managing director Jean-Louis Valentin said after the boycott,
“It’s a scandal for the French, for the federation and the French team, said furious
“They don’t want to train. It’s unacceptable. As for me, it’s over. I’m leaving the federation. I’m sickened and disgusted.”
It was an unmitigated disaster for the French, and one that threatened to undermine previous glories which included the 2000 European Championship, the 1998 World Cup, and a runners up spot in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Two years later, and steps had been taken by Laurent Blanc to prepare the French for the rigors of Euro 2012 in eastern Europe, but despite negotiating through the group stage, they were comfortably dismantled by eventual winners Spain, highlighting the need for further revolution in the ranks.
Now Didier Deschamps, captain of the national side during the most successful period in their history between 1998 and 2000, holds the reigns of a reborn Bleus, who could seriously challenge this summer in Brazil, and banish the toxic moniker that has befallen them since that dreadful month in Africa four years ago.
The French are not currently among the favourites for the tournament, regarding the current World Cup betting odds, and rightly so, considering the power of the likes of Argentina, Spain and Germany; and the rather unconvincing way they made it onto the plane to Brazil.
But Deschamps boasts a squad chock full of world class talent, with a number of individuals reaching the peak of their powers as we approach the summer, and if their key players can get into their groove, France could surprise a great many this summer.
Starting from the back, captain Hugo Lloris has proven to be a top notch goalkeeper for Spurs in the Premier League this season, despite the troubles of the London club, and has pulled off top saves throughout the campaign.
The French boast two of the best young defenders in the world, and while they may not play consistently during this tournament, both Raphael Varane and Eliaquim Mangala can show why so many of the biggest club sides are monitoring their progress.
Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny has blossomed into arguably the best centre back in the Premier League this season, while Manchester United man Patrice Evra has boundless experience on the left flank, despite his part in the 2010 debacle.
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has been one of the breakthrough talents of the season, while Yohan Cabaye has recently taken the step up to the big time from Newcastle to PSG, joining Blaise Matuidi, who will be key to any French success in Brazil.
Franck Ribery, a runner-up in the 2013 Ballon d’Or, is seen as one of the very best operators in the game at present, and was named the ‘UEFA Best Player in Europe’ for 2012/13 ahead of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.
The recently called up Antoine Griezmann has been outstanding this season for Real Sociedad in La Liga, and could be Deschamps’ secret weapon going forward.
Up top, Karim Benzema has been excellent for Real Madrid this season, and is one of Europe’s top marksmen; while Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud is a useful ‘Plan B’.
Although their squad is strong on paper, it is up to Deschamps to get his side playing as a unit, something they have been criticised for over the past few years; but with a formidable spine of players, the 45-year-old has all the tools to ensure the French really upset the World Cup odds this summer.