32 Teams in 32 Days: France
Each day between May 10 and the day before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 11, FoxSoccer.com analyst Jamie Trecker will preview each of the 32 teams playing in South Africa and tell you everything you need to know about each nation represented at the world's greatest sporting event.
Nickname: Les Bleus
France is in a bit of a pickle. Led by a coach widely considered a laughingstock, France only qualified for the Cup after a Thierry Henry handball allowed the French to escape a playoff loss to the Republic of Ireland. Henry's handball was so blatant -- and France's contrition so lacking -- that most football fans around the globe were outraged. That FIFA declined to punish the team after the fact -- or to replay the game -- further fanned resentment towards the French.
Why do many people dislike the French team so much? Well, it's that kind of arrogance, which has marked France's entire history. To be fair, some of it is entirely deserved. France has a rich history marked by monarchy, empire, and a bloody revolution that laid the seeds for a modern democracy.
Despite heavy suffering in both World Wars, France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among the European nations. It has the fifth-largest economy on the planet and is one of the eight admitted nuclear states. Its art, culture and cuisine are enjoyed world-wide and French food, fashion and wine are considered among the world's greatest.
Let's get back to the team. A scandal involving an underage prostitute has ensnared the team's best player, Franck Ribery, and at least two others. It is unclear what the legal outcome of this will be. Morale in the French camp is said to be at an all-time low as this dysfunctional bunch heads toward a tough first round. The truth is, the players seem to have little confidence in their manager, the mercurial Raymond Domenech.
PAST WORLD CUP SUCCESS: Winners in 1998; founded the world Cup in 1928.
REGIONAL SUCCESS: European Champions in 2000 and back in 1984 when current UEFA president Michel Platini led the way.
LEAGUE OVERVIEW: For years, football in France was the poor stepchild to sports such as racing and rugby -- despite a long and glorious track record in the sport. The World Cup itself was dreamed up by a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, and clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille and Bordeaux have glittering histories. But, in comparison to its European neighbors, France's Ligue Une is relatively cash-poor and today relies on members of its former colonies in Africa to stock its leagues. After 1998, however, things changed radically as France's World Cup win and subsequent Euro 2000 crown made it the sexiest professional sport in the land. Of late, the league's bloom has faded as more and more top-quality players are sucked into the Bundesliga, Serie A and the Premiership. Still, top-level teams such as Lyon and Monaco place their stamp on Europe with regularity.
MANAGER: Domenech is a three-time French Cup winner with three different sides. He played for Strasbourg, Lyon and Bordeaux and spent a season with Paris St.-Germain. See above for the downside.
KEY PLAYERS: On paper, this is a good team. On the field ... well ... 'keeper Hugo Lloris did a lot to keep Lyon's European Cup dreams alive this past season. The word is, he's moving on to a bigger club. Four Arsenal stalwarts make up the defensive spine: Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, and, right in front of them, the mercurial Abou Diaby. Those five guys are arguably what's holding the team together. Midfielder Ribery (Bayern) is the creator and unquestionably brilliant, but let's talk about baggage. When great, he's almost unstoppable; the question is, which guy shows up? Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea) had a breakout season; you have to assume he starts and the increasingly creaky Thierry Henry (Barcelona) gives you 30 off the bench.
FIFA RANKINGS: 10th. Which is laughable. Highest was 1st (2001), lowest was 25th (1998).
FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS: Mexico, hosts South Africa and Uruguay
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST MEXICO: The French have never lost to Mexico, beating them five times in six meetings, and playing to a scoreless draw just once. All but two of these games were in meaningful competition as well. France won 4-0 in the 1930 World Cup; beat ‘em again at the 1954 Cup, 3-2; then drew 1-1 in 1966 at the England Cup. At the Confederations Cup, France creamed Mexico 4-0 in Ulsan. Most recently, France won 1-0 in St. Denis in a 2006 exhibition.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa have never won against France, at any level. In 1998, the World Cup hosts spanked the Bafana Bafana 3-0 in Marseille. A more recent friendly in 2000 saw a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST URUGUAY: They've met five times, twice in the group stages of the Cup. In 2002, they played to a 0-0 draw at Busan; in 1966 Uruguay edged the French 2-1 in London. Their other meetings were friendlies. The most recent was in 2008, at St. Denis, where the sides played to a 0-0 draw.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: By hook or by crook, depending if you ask an Irishman or not. See above.
PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO PROGRESS: 30%. France can beat every single one of these teams, and they should. But they don't look like they have it together, so I'm dropping them down below Mexico.
TO WATCH: This whole team is kind of like a car wreck. Some find it funny; I honestly just find it sad.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Lyon); Steve Mandanda (Marseille); Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux)
Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal); Éric Abidal (Barcelona); Anthony Réveillère (Lyon); William Gallas (Arsenal); Marc Planus (Bordeaux); Patrice Evra (Manchester United); Sébastien Squillaci (Sevilla); Gaël Clichy (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich); Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux); Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon); Florent Malouda (Chelsea); Alou Diarra (Bordeaux); Abou Diaby (Arsenal); Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille);
Strikers: Djibril Cissé (Panathinaikos); Sidney Govou (Lyon); André-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse); Thierry Henry (Barcelona); Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea)
TOMORROW'S TEAM: The Netherlands