France stand on the brink of elimination at South Africa 2010, but their fading chances have not quite vanished yet. Qualification for the Round of 16 still remains a possibility if they can defeat the hosts on Tuesday, and either Uruguay or Mexico triumph elsewhere in Group A, providing the two matches combined yield the hatful of goals needed to help Les Bleus over the line.
These are tense times for Raymond Domenech’s side, and FIFA.com sought the views of a number of current and former France internationals for their thoughts on the team. “The players need to be aware that this match is vital for them,” said Christian Karembeu, a FIFA World Cup™ winner in 1998. “They need to show us that they deserve their place in this squad.”
“Plenty of things have been said in these last few days and there’s no point going over them yet again,” said Zinedine Zidane. “There’s still a chance of going through to the next round, even if it’s a miniscule one. Les Bleus need to give it their all.” For Jeremy Toulalan, one of Domenech’s 23-man party, the equation is straightforward. He said: “We need a big win against South Africa after having failed to score a single goal in the competition. However, as long as we still have a slim chance, we need to keep believing.”
A new start?
The crux of the issue comes down to whether France can take anything positive out of recent events as they strive to beat South Africa. “Will this allow the players to fight one last battle with a winning mentality?” said Alain Giresse, a member of the legendary France side of the mid-1980s. “It’s impossible to say right now, and even if it does they no longer control their own destiny.”
Regardless of what happens at South Africa 2010, Karembeu is hoping the tournament will allow for a new beginning for France. “I’m hoping that this match will be a new start, whether it be for the rest of the competition if Les Bleus manage to qualify, or for the future if they end up being eliminated,” he said.
Quite why so many players who are used to starring for their clubs have so obviously failed to spark for the national side is a tricky one, with many different opinions being aired. “Talent isn’t everything,” said Giresse. “We lack leaders, both in terms of technique and psychology. Some of the players are brimming with talent but just aren’t able to fit in with the team.”
Sylvain Wiltord feels that lack of cohesion has cost the side dearly. “I get the impression that everyone does their own little job in isolation during the games,” explained the former forward, who won UEFA EURO 2000 with Les Bleus, but also experienced the crushing disappointment of their 2002 FIFA World Cup campaign. “I think this team lacks joy and I’d like to see the players smile.”
All in the same boat
Zidane’s concern is that the squad lacks character. “You run into trouble when results don’t go your way,” he said. “When you’re winning, everything’s great and everything’s rosy, but you see who the real men are when things get difficult.” The former Real Madrid playmaker was also keen to stress that "when you’re all in the same boat, you mustn’t think you’re the captain. You can have a different opinion to the coach, but he remains the one and only captain of the ship”.
At the other end of the scale, Karembeu recalls an episode that brought France’s golden generation together while preparing for a must-win qualifier in Romania ahead of EURO 96. “We knew they’d have massive support behind them,” said the New Caledonian-born midfielder. “So the whole squad swore we’d give everything, body and soul, for the team, and that we’d surpass ourselves for the France shirt and the country as a whole. It was that same notion of giving our all that guided our generation.” France went on to triumph 3-1 in Bucharest.
Their present-day counterparts have so far failed to surpass themselves on South African soil, and with one game left in their section they cannot afford to wait any longer. “The players must put more effort into what they’re doing,” explained Wiltord. “They need a defining match in which everything goes perfectly. They have to find a way to set this game alight.”
“France just need to prove their superiority,” added Zidane. “The players have to show that it’s not for nothing that they’re at the biggest clubs in Europe. We’ve spoken about everything except football in the last few days. I’m certain the players will have that on their minds during the match. They know that if they win, we’ll be able to turn the page.”