The French are smiling again
Wembley Stadium, London, England.
A few months ago at the World Cup, the French were in disarray. They exited the World Cup at the Group stages without a win to their name and the squad was fighting among themselves, closing in on a mutiny against their unpopular coach Raymond Domenech.
Since their ignominious return home, Domenech, the nutty professor who allegedly selected players because of their star-signs, has been replaced by eminently more sensible Laurent Blanc.
Also in exile are the troublesome trio of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelkaand William Gallas, whose international careers have met Madame Guillotine.
The malign influence of Zinedine Zidane, the eminence grise and suspected instigator of the revolt against Domenech in South Africa, also appears to have diminished with the elevation of Blanc who was his teammate in the 1998 World Cup winning squad.
Discipline has been restored as has desire and pride in wearing the national team's shirt. Indeed, after the controversial victory over the Republic of Ireland in the qualifying playoffs and the constant rows with the coach, it looked as if the French did not want to be in South Africa and could not wait to get home.
Back has come the discarded trio of Phillipe Mexes, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema, none of whom are tainted by the shame of the World Cup debacle, along with Yoann Gourcouff, frozen out of the squad in South Africa on the insistence of Anelka and Franck Ribery and who ended the tournament with a red card against the host nation.
All four were prominent in Les Bleus' victory over England at Wembley this evening. Along with a rejuvenated Florent Malouda, now showing his Chelsea form in the blue of France, and new blood Mathieu Valbeuna and Yann M'Vila, the French dominated the midfield and mesmerised the English for long periods with their passing and movement.
Benzema, who must be a target for Premiership clubs when the transfer window opens, found plenty of space behind the English defence (and a goal) while Malouda and Valbuena highlighted an old English defensive weakness by inhabiting the no man's land between their midfield and back line, finding the room and time to test the English goalkeeper Ben Foster or set up Benzema.
A late English rally reduced the score to two — one in favour of the visitors — but for long spells they were second best.
England, it must be said, were missing several key players. Compared to the French, however, their squad lacks depth and quality.
Why else would Arsenal's reserve left back have started the game and striker Jay Bothroyd, playing in the English second tier, have entered the fray as a second half substitute for Andy Carroll, himself only two years into his senior career?
France's nouvelle vague has no such problems, most of them are starters for their clubs and Blanc can call on players with experience of La Liga, Serie A and the Premiership as well as the top division in France. None of the English squad has ever played club football beyond the white cliffs of Dover, another traditional failing of their game.
While Fabio Capello still has problems redeeming himself in the eyes of the English footballing public, following their equally disastrous summer, Blanc's charges are sitting pretty atop their European Championship Qualifying group as the renaissance gathers pace.
Vive la revolution!