On African soil to savour the continent’s first ever hosting of the FIFA World Cup™ finals, Aime Jacquet, the coach who guided France to the Trophy in 1998, spoke to FIFA.com about Les Bleus’ current form and his impressions of the tournament as a whole.
"First of all, I’m pleasantly surprised by the great reception that we’ve had and the fantastic atmosphere among the spectators," said the 69-year-old ex-supremo. "It’s a great World Cup that’s started really well. This is Africa’s World Cup and the South African people have a big responsibility to make sure that everything goes the way it should. It seems to me like it couldn’t have got off to a better start."
Nor is Jacquet’s enthusiasm limited to the hosts’ organisational expertise, with the Frenchman also tipping the African contingent to do well in the competition. "I think an African team can spring a surprise. Côte d’Ivoire have an exceptional team but they’re in a difficult group"
"Ghana can give anybody a game as they’ve already shown. Nigeria held their own against Argentina and it’s a shame they lost because I liked the way they had a go. From what I’ve seen so far, I’d venture that an African team will reach the latter stages.”
However, when asked who he believes are favourites to claim the title in South Africa, it is the names of the more experienced world players that trip off his tongue. "Brazil, just ahead of Spain," said Jacquet. "Then Argentina, Germany and perhaps an African country. That said, watch out for England. Even though they’ve not started the World Cup well, I’ve no doubt [Fabio] Capello’s team will improve hugely as the tournament progresses.
When quizzed on Les Bleus’ bid to repeat their 1998 feats, the former France coach replied: "The team’s had a low-key start to the tournament and they’ve been having problems for several months now. I just wonder if the players’ quality will be enough to get them back on track. I think the Mexico game is vital. If France don’t get a good result against Los Aztecas then we won’t have a good World Cup.
"It’s a very tough match to predict, but I’d say our chances are 50-50," continued Jacquet, also a former Technical Director of the French Football Association (FFF). "We know that France haven’t shown their true colours yet. If we find our feet then I think we can beat Mexico. The players are good enough, but we have to hit top form both physically and mentally."
No interview with Jacquet would be complete without a question on Les Bleus’ class of ’98. Was that the best crop of French players ever? "I wouldn’t say that," he reflected. "They were one of the best, but France also had an excellent squad in 1958 and a brilliant side during the [Michel] Platini era.
"That said, we did perhaps have the most competitive, the most disciplined and the most imaginative team. And that was all thanks to Zinedine Zidane: that’s why we won. Every team crowned world champions has an exceptional player in their ranks such as [Diego] Maradona, Pele and [Franz] Beckenbauer. Zizou was ours."