Friendlies

What Do France Need to Change to Have a Successful World Cup?

France's Franck Ribery, second right, reacts with team mates , from left Mathieu Debuchy, Yohan Cabaye, and Loic Remy after Yohan Cabaye scored the fourth goal against Australia during their international soccer friendly match between France and Australia at the Parc Des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Friday, Oct.11, 2013. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Francois Mori/Associated Press
Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

Since their FIFA World Cup success of 1998 and their UEFA European Championship triumph in 2000, France have lurched between crisis and near success on the international stage, particularly when it comes to the mondial.

In South Korea and Japan 2002, Les Bleus badly under-performed and finished bottom of Group A with just one point from their three games when they had been expected to put up a staunch defence of their title.

Francois Mori/Associated Press

Then, four years later, they were only beaten on penalties by Italy in the Germany 2006 final in Berlin after recovering from a shaky start. However, 2010 in South Africa was a return to controversy, with the events in Knysna overshadowing another poor showing that resulted in an early exit.

Les Tricolores are never far away from imploding when it comes to international tournaments and it is this mentality that needs to be changed.

Much has been made of the players’ disconnect with French football fans since the triumphs of the classes of 1998 and 2000. Bleacher Report’s guest columnist Andy Brassell even touched on the failure of the supposed golden generation of 1987 in an informative piece just this week.

That group of players was supposed to come to the fore at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, but many of its key members have been damaged by massive expectations on their shoulders and the dislike that they have evoked in recent years because of their behaviour.

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is one of the few from that selection still to be considered a regular for Les Bleus, but even he is not beyond criticism after some woeful recent international form.

Michel Euler/Associated Press

Samir Nasri of Manchester City is another, although he has been in and out of the French setup since an ugly spat with a journalist at the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

Left out of the squad to face the Netherlands on Wednesday, the 26-year-old’s chance under World Cup and European Championship-winning captain Didier Deschamps may now have definitively passed.

Now coach of Les Bleus, Deschamps hinted in his pre-match press conference, as per ESPN FC, ahead of the clash with the Dutch that Nasri’s recent omission was not entirely down to footballing reasons, reflecting something that has long since been suspected about the midfielder’s character.

There are and have been certain characters available to the French national team coaches over the past few years who have an unsettling influence on the team. Nasri is one of them but by no means the only one.

Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Manchester United’s Patrice Evra has come in for severe criticism in the past for his role in 2010’s Knysna crisis and a tirade that he launched at certain members of the French football media ahead of the eventual two-legged play-off success over Ukraine.

However, Deschamps has decided that he is a player that France cannot do without while he is still available for international duty, and Franck Ribery recently lauded his leadership skills after an impassioned speech to his teammates inspired a key qualifying victory over Belarus.

Evra is a necessary evil, as it were, but Nasri is neither indispensable on the pitch when in bleu nor in the dressing room. In fact, the latter is thought to be a hindrance following his woeful performance in the first leg of the play-offs against Ukraine.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  France throw their Coach Didier Deschamps in the air after winning the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off second leg match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo b
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

His omission appears to be part of Deschamps’ strategy to rid his team of unwanted influences before heading to Brazil. The 45-year-old has also started to cast doubt over some of those whose ability has come into question internationally, with Eric Abidal and Gael Clichy also left out.

This concentration on ensuring that France will head to South America relatively controversy-free and with a strong team ethic could be the difference between another disappointing campaign and a successful one.

Les Bleus’ individual talent has never been in question, but their collective mentality has, and if Deschamps can get the team pulling in the same direction this summer, their chances of success in Brazil will be greatly enhanced.

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