Govou: We never thought we'd fail
Having resigned himself to watching France's 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign from his holiday hotel, Sidney Govou was called up by Raymond Domenech as a last-minute replacement for the unfortunate Djibril Cisse, just as he had been on the eve of UEFA EURO 2004.
Now, in the build-up to Les Bleus' dream Final against Italy, the attacking midfielder from Lyon looks back with FIFAworldcup.com on his side's journey to Sunday's showdown in Berlin.
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FIFAworldcup.com: With the Final fast approaching, what's the mood like in the camp?
Sidney Govou: For the moment, the tension hasn't really started mounting. We're enjoying a period of relaxation, topping up our energy levels after the last match. We were quite tired by the end of it, so the priority has to be to recover from that. We're talking more about what has already happened than about what might happen, and that's in line with what we've been doing since the start of the tournament. After each match, the first thing we think about is relaxing our minds. I think the pressure will start rising bit by bit from Saturday. There's no point getting worked up about the game too early.
Much has been said about the atmosphere among the French squad. As a latecomer, how have you found it?
Because I arrived after everyone else, I probably spent longer acclimatising, but at least that allowed me to observe how my team-mates were living together. And as I'd suspected, I soon realised that all the talk of unrest was false. Earlier in the competition, when the results were not so good, we came in for a lot of criticism in the press and all kinds of things were being said and written about us. But I can assure you that, in terms of spirit, the external perspective was and is a long way off the mark.
You've come on in each of the last four games. What's it like being used as a super-sub like this?
I'm just happy to have been called up at the last minute for this World Cup and I'm delighted to be a part of this fantastic adventure. When the squad of 23 was announced at the end of May, I didn't really think there was much chance I'd be involved. Then when I was called up, I didn't really expect to play. But although I pretty much convinced myself that I wasn't going to get on the pitch, as soon as I touched the ball, I felt I was still in good form. So I convinced myself there was no reason why I shouldn't get a chance. As it happens, I've felt really good right from when I first came off the bench.
When you come on, what instructions does Raymond Domenech tend to give you?
Mainly, to defend well and always get back into position. He knows that I can switch rapidly from a defensive to an attacking role, and that one of my best qualities is being able to pick up the pace of a game quickly. I know straight away what I need to do.
What is the greatest strength of this French side?
Definitely the mental side of the game. We've been able to succeed by taking on board our coach's instructions, the most important of which is to defend well and to do so as a team. Looking back at our early matches, it's fair to say that we didn't yet have this defensive consistency, but we've since managed to incorporate it into our play to form the solid unit we are now. The coach has really had to hammer it home to us, as it's not easy making forward players understand that defending well is also a form of attack.
As an attack-minded player, do you enjoy playing in such a defensive side?
I can honestly say it doesn't bother me in the least. It's not as if it's a French-style catenaccio or anything, but just another way of looking at the game. At Lyon, we tend to play in a similar way and the instructions are pretty much the same. I expect if you asked Flo (Florent Malouda) the same question, he would give exactly the same answer. I prefer to attack, but I don't mind defending at all.
How do you pass the time during these quiet periods before and after games?
Since the quarter-finals, we've started to watch a bit of TV, as it's nice to see what's going on back in France and chat about it among ourselves.
Now that you're in the Final, the same people who wrote you off after the first two games are madly enthusiastic about your chances. What do you make of this dramatic turnaround?
That's normal. It's just the way football is. When you get so many fans coming together, feelings can easily veer from one extreme to another. People have the right to their opinion and also to change it the next day. That's life. At the point when things weren't going well for us on the pitch, I suppose we might have been a little bit affected by their criticism, but now their support is helping us to express ourselves even more.
Listening to you speak, it's almost as if you never doubted that you'd make it?
We arrived in Germany with the aim of reaching the Final on 9 July. We may not have shouted it from the rooftops, particularly when we were struggling during the first round, but the belief was still there inside us all. We never thought we'd fail.
Did you watch the GermanyItaly semi-final? What do you think of your next opponents?
Yes, I must admit that quite a few of us watched the game at our hotel in Munich. We know Italy well anyway. They defend very well, sucking in the opposition and them trying to hurt them on the counter. And in physical terms, the Italians are definitely a cut above the rest. Maybe not above France, but it's certainly one of their strengths.
Do you dream of coming on and scoring like Sylvain Wiltord or David Trezeguet did at the UEFA EURO 2000 Final?
I'm not really a dreamer by nature but if I need to come on and make the difference, I would be only too happy to oblige. The most important thing is for France to win, but if I end up playing a key role in that, I'll be absolutely over the moon, even if it's a last-ditch tackle!
Are you concerned that the Italians will mark you much tighter than your last few opponents have?
Rather than thinking about what Italy might do to try and stop us, we prefer to concentrate on our own game. The most important thing will be to play as we have since the start, namely to our strengths. Yes, we will adapt our game slightly according to the opposition, but we certainly won't be especially worried about anything or anyone!
Would you say that France have already had a successful FIFA World Cup?
When you get to the Final, you don't then say to yourself, We've done enough now'. We want to win this Trophy, but whether that means we'll have had an unsuccessful World Cup if we lose... Ask me again after the match (laughs).
Do you think the imminent end of Zinedine Zidane's career and the international retirements of Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele's could have a psychological effect on this Final?
It's true that we're trying not to think about it too much at the moment, but it could possibly work in our favour. It would be too simplistic to say we are playing only for them, but thinking about the fact that they're going could perhaps inspire us to summon up the energy for one last ten-metre dash to make a crucial tackle or fire in a shot at goal.