The French are staring down the barrel of elimination.
But regardless of the players in the current side, and regardless of Raymond Domenech’s inability to manage the side, I truly believe the French are suffering from a deeper fundamental crisis.
They are a team in transition, and have been since losing Zidane, the best player of his generation, yet alone of the French national team since Michel Platini, to retirement.
How does a coach, especially a national team coach, replace arguably one of the best players in history?
Obviously, one of the ways to deal with this problem is to change play from the same formation and style that was successful before.
The 4-2-3-1 formation the French have employed at this World Cup was successful in 2006.
But Zidane was playing behind the striker then, linking the defence and attack, with Franck Ribéry and Florent Malouda playing on the wings as Zidane’s willing runners.
But the French don’t have that same creative playmaker in Yoan Gouffran. Plus, the French haven’t gotten the best out of Ribéry, and Malouda is playing out of position.
To make matters worse, Nicolas Anelka isn’t the same player for country as he is at club level, and hasn’t received any good service from his midfield.
With all of these factors, it's apparent that this 4-2-3-1 the French maintain isn’t working.
If they continue playing this formation, then it's a real surprise to me that Thierry Henry isn’t playing just behind Anelka (he may not have that burst of acceleration that made him one of the best strikers in the world, but he wouldn’t need it in that role).
Even pushing Abou Diaby into that position might be effective, although I’m still unsure whether Diaby can pick the right pass at the right moment (his decision not to play Theo Walcott against Barcelona in the second leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League, when Arsenal were already up 1-0, comes to mind).
For years, the team was built around Zidane.
At France 1998, Zidane was a key member of the team, and his two goals in the final against Brazil made him a national hero. He played a key role at Euro 2000. And in the same year, he became World Player of the Year for the second time (the first coming in 1998).
With Zidane injured during the opening stages of the 2002 World Cup, it was no surprise the French struggled to get out of the group stage. Euro 2004 was another disappointment for the French, although at this point Zidane was in his early thirties and Greece should be credited for defeating them at the quarterfinals.
And even before the 2006 World Cup, the French struggled to qualify for the tournament, yet alone in making it to the final.
With Zidane coming out of retirement, and Claude Makélelé and Lilian Thuram following him, the French got to Germany and reached the final before losing to Italy on penalties.
But after 2006, the French—especially Raymond Domenech—have not changed the way the team plays, even though they lack Zidane's creativity as a midfielder.
It was no surprise, then, that the French again failed to get out of their group, just like at the 2002 World Cup.
The French team must rethink its strategy to get the best out of its players.
Hopefully, Laurent Blanc can remodel and reshape the team after this World Cup.