2010 FIFA World Cup: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme in France's Preparations
For the first time since breaking their World Cup duck at home in 1998, France enter the tournament relegated from favourites to mere dark horses-though given the controversial manner of their entry into South Africa they may be grateful for that status.
When Aime Jacquet’s team, boasting both a strong collective ethic and individual stars in Zinedine Zidane, Lillian Thuram and Marcel Desailly, won the title it appeared a new age had dawned for French football.
Such impressions were merely enhanced by their victory in Euro 2000, where the likes of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry stepped up with aplomb and appeared to signal a bright future for Les Bleus.
But one decade on, and with many star names having long-since departed, that bright future never quite came to fruition, as disappointments in 2002, 2004 and 2008 will demonstrate.
Only in 2006, when a Zinedine Zidane inspired team ran eventual-champions Italy to the very end, did France live up to their reputation.
Now, ten years on, any hopes of a renaissance in French football appear as futile as ever-as they enter a tournament hoping more than ever for a miracle, especially given the rather haphazard nature of their preparation.
Three friendlies, have drawn a full range of results. A 2-1 victory over Costa Rica, a 1-1 draw against Tunisia and finally a disappointing 1-0 loss against lowly China epitomise the uncertainty which currently reigns in France’s camp.
As former World Cup champion Desailly said: "I saw France lose to China and, from what I have seen, I'm almost sure they can't win the World Cup.
"They are now at the end of their preparation and should be at their best, but I'm annoyed that we still don't have a starting line-up and are undecided over tactics.
“A team that's going to win the World Cup should already know these things."
Even the current squad admit there is still plenty for their team today, and midfielder Yoann Gourcuff admitted: “We’ll have to work, we'll have to make adjustments and watch the video (analysis) to create understanding (between the players) and make adjustments between us in attacking and defensive areas."
Meanwhile Florent Malouda, one of the few French players peaking at the right time for the tournament, said: "The World Cup is really close and honestly we have a lot of problems to fix. When there is tension, when there are high-pressure games, you need characters.
“You need people to come out and say 'I will take responsibility'. Honestly we have a lot of problems.
“We have to talk about a lot of things. But for that you need someone to take the first step. Guys like (Patrick) Vieira and (Claude) Makelele who can take the lead. If they are not there, somebody has to do it."
In all their friendlies, France’s main problems have been both in defence and attack where both preventing and scoring goals have been a problem.
As defender Eric Abidal admitted: "There are still some details to sort out with William [Gallas], in the accuracy in the level of placement because William is used to playing in a certain position.
"It's up to me to be able to adapt and then to do movements in a block, as a team, and to try to do everything to plug the gaps that could occur."
Meanwhile, despite carving out numerous chances against China, France were unable to take them-with Nicolas Anelka struggling in a lone role up front.
Beyond Thierry Henry, who appears set for a place on the bench in South Africa, Domenech’s options are weak with only Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac possible alternatives.
He admitted: “We lacked freshness and spontaneity.
“With regard to all the chances which were created, there was something missing, which was obvious.”
This cuts to the heart of the problem for France at the moment, despite boasting a midfield including Gourcuff, Franck Ribery and Malouda who produce nurmerous chances, taking them is a problem.
However Domenech was keen to downplay this problem, and added: “Look at the match and the number of chances we had, especially at the end.
"It's true that once again we're asking ourselves how we could have missed them, but it's also the match where we created the most of them.
“That's the positive side, we just lacked the last touch, the dangerous positioning.....I don't say that it's perfect, but it's better."
While Domenech has been adventurous in the build up-dropping his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation for a 4-3-3 formation in the hope of playing to his team’s strengths, it has merely added to the sense of uncertainty which has engulfed his side’s build-up.
This is nothing new to a French team which has become accustomed to such things under their current manager, it means they enter this World Cup living in hope of success rather than expectation.
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