France will begin their attempt to gof one step further than the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in a qualifying group in which they are likely to face the stiffest competition from Romania and Serbia.
The runners-up in Germany four years ago are also joined in Group 7 by Austria and will renew immediate rivalry with both Lithuania and the Faroe Islands who were in the same qualifying group for the EURO 2008 finals. France beat them both, home and away, without conceding a goal. Romania qualified for next summer's European Championships with ease, finishing as winners of their group ahead of the Netherlands and dropping only seven points in 12 games. Serbia also posted some impressive results in their section.
Austria, one of the co-hosts for next year's European event, have no recent competitive results so it is difficult to gauge their current form. But they will be looking to improve on their recent disappointing record in FIFA World Cups having qualified for only one (1998) of the last four tournaments.
The 1998 world champions will clearly be the team to beat but Raymond Domenech's side will be foolish to underestimate Romania's challenge. Les Bleus have taken part in each of the last three FIFA World Cup finals but have undergone only one qualifying campaign in that time, taking part as hosts in 1998 and as the holders four years later.
Serbia, who are competing in an international tournament for the first time on their own, having separated from Montenegro last year, enjoyed an impressive qualifying campaign for the European Championships and only lost two of their 14 games, finishing on 24 points, four behind group winners Poland and three behind Portugal. Serbia's competitiveness was shown by the fact that they remained unbeaten in all four games against the two group principals; their only defeats coming away to Belgium and Kazakhstan.
The players to watch
Thierry Henry (FRA), Karim Benzema (FRA), Cristian Chivu (ROM), Adrian Mutu (ROM) , Nemanja Vidic (SRB), Nikola Zigic (SRB).
The crunch match
It is hard to look beyond the France-Romania clash as being the pivotal fixture in this section. France have built a reputation as one of Europe's powerhouses as a succession of top quality players have rolled off their production line and their achievement in finishing first in 1998 and runners-up in 2006 is formidable. Romania recent record in FIFA World Cups is nothing to shout about - they failed to qualify in both 2002 and 2006 - but their results over the last year indicate that they are a nation on the rise in world football.
A look back
France and Serbia (then known as Yugoslavia) fought out an amazing duel in 1960 with Serbia coming out on top 5-4. Although Serbia took the lead France hit back and led 3-1 in the 53 rd minute. They were pegged back to 3-2 but then led 4-2 when Francois Heutte scored his second just past the hour. Incredibly Serbia then scored three times in the space of four minutes to book their place in the Final where they lost after extra-time to hosts USSR.
France and Serbia (Yugoslavia) have met twice in FIFA World Cup finals, at Switzerland 1954 and Sweden 1958 and each time Yugoslavia won by a single goal, respectively 1-0 and 3-2.
Did you know?
France v Serbia (Yugoslavia) is one of the most frequent head-to-heads in FIFA World Cup preliminary history. They met in the qualifiers for the 1950, 1966, 1986 and 1990 competitions. They have played 26 times in senior internationals with Serbia edging ahead with ten wins to France's nine.
After lifting the trophy on home soil in 1998, and then adding the European crown two years later, France endured an inglorious campaign in the 2002 FIFA World Cup when they departed at the first-round stage. How will they follow their 2006 success when they lost in the Final to Italy on penalties?