Togetherness takes France far
People used to think Raymond Domenech was crazy. Ever since he became coach of France his confidence has been striking: "We must qualify for the World Cup, but that is merely a first step. Our final objective is to win it!"
Was he being ironic or was the pressure getting to the former France U-21 coach? In the words of the man himself: "It wasn't just wishful thinking. No one else could see it, but it was obvious to me all along. After all, I was being paid to be positive. If I didn't have faith in our abilities, who would?"
It was not always apparent from the outside, but the France squad never lost sight of their final goal. They were on a mission and had taken the words of their coach on board. The day before the semi-final against Portugal, Lilian Thuram said: "Great teams are made up of individuals who are ready to give all for their team-mates, to sacrifice themselves for the cause. I'm proud to have come back into a France squad where I can be a part of this."
Believing in each other
Willy Sagnol also spoke about the sense of unity among the squad. "The atmosphere has been the same since we arrived in Germany on 8 June. Good performances help, of course, but whatever people think, the way we interact as a squad doesn't change. There is a phrase to sum up our mentality, United we stand, united we fall'."
So there you have it: the key to the success of this group of players is their faith in each other and the way they have given their all for the team. But it has not always been plain sailing. For example, there were the two draws during the group stage, 0-0 against Switzerland, then 1-1 against Korea Republic.
"Of course it hasn't been rosy throughout, but our only disagreements concerned what was happening on the pitch," said Sagnol. "We all sat down together, everyone had their say and finally we found the missing ingredient. We simply needed to be more of a team on the pitch, just as we were off it. Team spirit has always been strong, there have never been any factions."
The right-back also paid tribute to the role Domenech has played. "We have been lucky in that we have had a coach who has allowed us to express ourselves. He has shown us where our responsibilities lie but has left us in charge of our own destinies. Our biggest fear wasn't being knocked out of the World Cup - it was that we wouldn't have the opportunity to show what we could do."
'Not looking to vindicate ourselves'
Having come in for some fierce criticism, not all of it unfounded, the 1998 world champions cannot wait for Sunday's Final, when they hope to conclude their adventure with the happiest of endings. "We're not looking to vindicate ourselves, or take revenge on anyone, but if we bring home the Trophy, we will only share the moment with those who believed in us from the start," said Sagnol. "It's too easy to jump on the bandwagon now we're in the Final."
Then it will be time for everyone to go their separate ways. Temporarily for some, while others will be leaving for good. "It's in the back of our minds, of course, but we have to try and forget about it for the moment. For us, the most important thing is team spirit. I can assure you that even though we've been together since 21 May, we have no desire to see the back of each other just yet."