At last, Les Bleus can breathe again. After so much suffering during the European League and in the Superfinal in Marseilles, the world champions rounded things off by outclassing Switzerland 5-1 in the tournament's 'last chance bracket' to book their passage to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.
However, despite a sense of task duly accomplished, questions remain over the current French team. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, France coach Eric Cantona looked back at his team's recent shaky performances. In typically forthright fashion, 'The King' answered every question head-on, as he offered his take on what France must do if they are going to retain their world title in Rio this November .
Eric, France will be defending its world title in November, but you still don't seem particularly satisfied…
I can't feel satisfied by the manner of our qualification. Our prime objective was to win the European title, here in front of our own fans in Marseilles, not to be playing in the 'last chance bracket' match. So it was a huge let down to not even make it to the semi-finals and qualify directly for the World Cup.
Given Les Blues' record in the Euro Beach Soccer League 2006, you could not take anything for granted…
It's true that having to qualify for the Superfinal didn't help matters this year. After round one, and our elimination, we needed to bounce back quickly and improve a lot of aspects of our game. We spoke a lot amongst ourselves and while preparing for the last few matches we focused on our strengths. The match against England was the turning point. That was a difficult match, one that presented us with a major physical test. It was by no means a perfect performance, but we won. Since then we've gone from strength to strength.
To the point, in fact, that in your last match against the Swiss, there were echoes of the team that won the World Cup in Rio last year…
That was basically my own feeling after this match. We defended very well as a team. Even our forwards were quick to get back and lend a hand to their teammates in defence. And I also saw some good moves going forward again, the sort of combinations that we've been working on in training. That's the basis of beach soccer; knowing how and when to move and being able to make quick forward runs. Without that you'll never pose any kind of threat.
Why do you think that the French team's form has dipped so dramatically, compared with last year when it was the best team on the planet?
It's all a matter of timing and the effort you are prepared to make to stay at the same level. That is what was missing most. I'd also say that we seem to have scored more goals from set-pieces in our last three matches than we did during the whole of the European League campaign. My players had forgotten that in beach soccer, a powerful low drive is often the most dangerous option available. But it demands a lot of technique.
The President of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes was present in Marseilles on Sunday. Is that a positive sign for the future of beach soccer in France?
His presence was very important in my view. It signals another vital step for us. We've already seen the development of closer links between Beach Soccer World Wide and FIFA. Today, both organisations are working terrifically well together for the good of the sport. Now we need to see beach soccer teams being integrated into their national federations.
Finally, Eric, how are you going to prepare for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006?
We're going to carry on working here at our base in Marseilles. There is no question of us falling back to the form that we showed at certain points this season. I think we'll head off for Rio a bit earlier than we did last year. We'll be leaving the cold weather and heading straight into the Brazilian summer, so we'll need time to adapt. And that will give us the chance to do some more work out there and get used to the local sand under our feet.