Monday, November 29, 1999

ANALYSIS - Awful France prove doubters right

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Those who suggested France should not be at the World Cup in the first place might allow themselves a smug smile that they will probably not stay very long.An uninspired display in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay last week and a truly awful one in a surprise 2-0 defeat by Mexico on Thursday left the 2006 runners-up threatened by another early exit following their Euro 2008 flop.France owed their presence in South Africa to a dismal qualifying campaign that culminated with a controversial playoff win over Ireland featuring Thierry Henry's infamous handball.For that reason alone, many felt France did not deserve to be at the World Cup. The performances from the 1998 champions in their two matches here so far have done nothing to disprove that feeling.Toothless in attack, clumsy in midfield and shaky at the back, France looked a shadow of the team who ruled the world just over a decade ago and thrilled their fans again with their surprise run to the title match in 2006 in Germany.On a cold night in Polokwane, they were simply outplayed by a Mexican side playing a fast, simple game with nothing fancy and never found the answer, creating just one real chance in the whole 90 minutes.They still have a match to play, against South Africa next week in Bloemfontein, and could theoretically save their skins.That is unlikely, however, as a draw between Uruguay and Mexico, who top the group with four points each, would send France packing even if they beat the hosts.NO ZIDANESince arriving in South Africa, the France players and their coach, the controversial Raymond Domenech, had kept saying they felt the team could go places.Unlike at Euro 2008, when a rotten atmosphere marred their campaign, the squad appeared to be united and desperate to restore pride, the only thing they can now realistically still fight for.The problem is attitude alone does not win games and the absence of a Zinedine Zidane, the wizard who signed off with a headbutt in the 2006 final that might have cost France the title, has been sorely felt on the pitches of South Africa.Many France fans will tell you that Domenech, who has never won anything as a coach nor done much to make himself popular, is the reason France have lost their magic touch.Henry, France's record scorer with 51 goals from 122 internationals, should have played against Mexico, they will add, without mentioning the fact that the 32-year-old is clearly past his prime.Domenech, who started the World Cup with a bold 4-3-3 formation before reverting to his usual, more cautious 4-2-3-1 system, might have made a few wrong choices here and there.Yes, the stubborn 58-year-old with the bushy eyebrows, who kept annoying everyone with his trademark mix of dry remarks and undecipherable commments, was once again distrustful of the outside world, just like many of his players.Being nice and signing autographs, however, would not have helped Domenech and his men make an impact at the first World Cup staged in Africa.France's real problem is that a unique generation of players led by the great Zidane has been lost and not replaced.Laurent Blanc, a prominent actor of that golden era who will take over from Domenech after the World Cup, must first look hard for new gems if he is to make France proud of their team again.(Editing by Ossian Shine. To comment on this story email
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