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Saturday, 03 June 2006

3214: World Cup Group G Preview: Fra


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by : Chris Sherrard

Qualifying


If you were trying to think of a word to sum up France’s qualification for this World Cup, it certainly wouldn’t be ‘convincing’.

For a team blessed with some world class performers, they stuttered through Group D of the European zone, struggling to draws against Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland.

In fact, they had to rely on beating Cyprus in the final game of qualifying to be assured of topping the group and avoiding the play-offs.


Group prospects


Well, if France don’t top this group then they may as well pack up and bid adieu to their World Cup hopes.

They fell at this stage in embarrassing fashion in 2002 and you’d have to think they’d learn from that.

They can’t say they don’t know much about the Swiss, having met them twice in qualification.

South Korea provide less of a threat than they did on home soil in the last World Cup but they have a couple of players with great experience so must be watched closely.

As for Togo, their best player is Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor and he’s hardly caught fire in the Premiership since his move. The French will be confident of winning that one comfortably but, then again, that’s what they thought in 2002’s group stage and we all know what happened then.


Tournament prospects


The bookies have France at 12/1 which, if you consider they can field two of the greatest players of all time in Henry and Zidane, is pretty generous.

But it won’t be quite so straightforward for Les Blues to maneouvre a way to the final.

Assuming they top the group, and heaven knows they should, they’ll most likely come up against Ukraine in the Second Round.

On paper it seems a bit of a mismatch; the aristocrats and recent winners against the first time qualifiers.

But consider this: it will, most likely, be Andrei Schevchenko – one of the world’s finest footballers – going up against Newcastle flop Jean Alain Boumsong. Not quite so predictable, now.

A victory in that one, and if everything goes according to plan elsewhere, would ensure a meeting with the Italians in the Quarter-Finals.

That would be one game too many, for France. Italy are a wounded animal coming into the tournament on the back of match-fixing controversy. They will take their anger out on whoever gets in their way. That will be the French.


Star men


Thierry Henry will be the driving force, inspiration and major goal supply for the fighting French in Germany.

The Arsenal man will not want to experience the disappointment of losing a major final, as he did against Barcelona in his home city, and will give all he has to bring his team-mates with him.

Unfortunately for Les Blues, that burden may just be too big for even the great man.

Zidane has been largely ineffectual in Madrid this season, while doubts persist over quite how hungry Trezeguet, Wiltord and Thuram will be.

The central-midfield presence of Makelele and Vieira is fairly imposing and will have to be up to standard if they are to thrive.

Djibril Cisse might just surprise a few in Germany but a glance down the squad list shows an ageing or inexperienced dominance which may well be France’s undoing.


Squad


Mickal Landreau, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Eric Abidal, Patrick Vieira, William Gallas, Claude Makll, Florent Malouda, Vikash Dhorasoo, Djibril Ciss, Zindine Zidane, Sylvain Wiltord, Thierry Henry, Mikael Silvestre, Louis Saha, Lilian Thuram, Fabien Barthez, Gal Givet, Alou Diarra, Willy Sagnol, David Trzguet, Pascal Chimbonda, Franck Ribry, Gregory Coupet.

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