France should advance

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

Call it karma. Call it mismanagement. Call it bad luck. The distractions keep coming for France in its preparation for the World Cup in South Africa.

If there weren’t enough juicy subplots already to distract, add the French Football Federation confirming it already has selected Laurent Blanc as successor for current head coach Raymond Domenech upon the conclusion of the World Cup.

France defender Patrice Evra calls the FFF’s decision to go public with the move as “incompetence.” And Evra isn’t the only player left scratching his head over the move. Naming a new head coach with superior credentials than the current manager is always awkward.

Domenech has an army of detractors to begin with, without the distraction of Blanc. The French never have been a fan of Domenech’s dramatics, his penchant to use astrology to determine squad selection, his bland tactics and a lack of results to boot.

Now throwing Blanc’s name into the equation, with memories of the former captain lifting the World Cup as champion 12 years ago in Paris fresh in mind, Domenech is even more up against it.

It’s shocking the FFF decided to stick with Domenech for the tournament, especially after a less than inspiring qualifying campaign, including a forgettable 1-0 win over minnows Faroe Islands. And if it were not for Thierry Henry’s “Hand of Fraud,” well, you all know how that narrative goes.

But the negative narrative started long before Henry’s infamous moment. A largely disappointing World Cup 2006 in Germany was masked by Zinedine Zidane’s spectacular display of soccer, leading his side, featuring many from the Golden Generation of French soccer, all the way to the final.

Just as Zidane’s flash of madness, the head-butt heard around the world, sent the superstar crashing down to earth, so has the French side.

France’s performance at Euro 2008 did nothing to get rid of the bad taste, failing to advance from the group stage, scoring only one goal in the process. A 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands showed how far the mighty had fallen. That loss, above any, seemed to indicate change was needed at the helm.

Yet Domenech was spared, largely because of his side’s World Cup final appearance two years earlier. And in the two years since, Domenech has done very little to justify remaining in the position he is in.

Squad selection was an issue in 2008. And Domenech’s decision to leave talented talisman Karim Benzema off his roster this time around follows that trend. Benzema didn’t get games at Real Madrid this past season, but has been a regular in the French set-up for quite sometime. If Nicolas Anelka fails to deliver goals on the international stage yet again, the blame will fall on the exiting head coach.

And if more distractions weren’t already needed, stalwarts Franck Ribery and Sidney Govou recently being implicated in an underage prostitution scandal adds even more negative for Domenech to deal with.

With the start of the World Cup three weeks away, the negative press isn’t going anywhere. And despite immense talent in the squad, pundits have soured on France’s chances in the tournament.

Still, with so much quality in the side, no matter the distraction, it’s hard to count out France. Group A, although a balanced group, doesn’t feature a dominant squad. Mexico is high on potential, but low on experience. Uruguay boasts a formidable attack, but lack on the back end. And South Africa, although a sweetheart as the host, will be hard-pressed to stay with the talent of the French.

If William Gallas proves fit, bolstering the central defence, if attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff continues his impressive play from this past season at Bordeaux, and if Florent Malouda continues the all-world form he displayed the second half of the season at Chelsea, this French team is as good as any.

So forget about the distractions. Forget about the head coach. Forget about past struggles. France’s success, or lack of same, will fall solely on the players. And if that is the case, I like France’s chances.


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