Youri Djorkaeff has first-hand experience of the ups and downs of international football. He enjoyed memorable triumphs with France at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ and the 2000 UEFA European Championship, but also endured great disappointment at Korea/Japan 2002, where Les Bleus finished rock bottom of their group, having secured just one point in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay.
In Brazil to commentate on matches for French television, the former creative midfielder has been relishing the experience. “I’m very happy – I’m really enjoying it,” he told FIFA.com.
“The stadiums are fantastic and the atmosphere has been great during matches. This is a football country; they live and breathe football here. It’s a great chance to experience the game from a Brazilian point of view.”
A key member of the famous French side of 1998, then captained by current coach Didier Deschamps, Djorkaeff was impressed with the way in which Karim Benzema and Co secured their berth in the knockout stages.
There are no outstanding favourites – the good teams are those that are collectively strong, but with great individuals who play for the team.
“They’ve had a brilliant start, which hardly anyone expected. Before the tournament began, after their qualification against Ukraine, it was clear that the team was well-prepared. And little by little, they’re starting to build something solid. I think we’ve got a team with a real future, one that will compete well, focus on the task at hand and put in some watchable performances,” explained the 46-year-old Frenchman.
“Let’s leave predictions to the fans, though. France have to take one game at a time. The goal has to be to play well in the next match. But we’re on a good run, and we need to keep it going.”
Key to the Cup
Despite this renewed optimism, the ex-Inter Milan star was keen to point out that the competition has only just begun: “When you get through your group, a whole new tournament starts, and with it comes a totally different kind of pressure.
“I’m not talking about what the media or fans will say. I’m talking about within the dressing room. A lot of pressure comes from players being aware that one loss sends them home. The real World Cup starts now.”
Based on his own experiences, what advice would he give to this crop of players? “You have to keep calm and not get carried away. You need to focus on moving the ball around nicely in each game, and playing as a unit. That’s been the key to success for a lot of teams at this tournament, including Costa Rica, Mexico and Chile. Why have those teams advanced against the odds? Because they play as a team,” he said.
“It’s a World Cup for stars that can play well as part of a team. And that’s what football, a collective sport, should be about. There are no outstanding favourites – the good teams are those that are collectively strong, but with great individuals who play for the team.
“The best example is Neymar. He’s the star of the team, but he’s a team-mate first and foremost. The team plays for him, and he plays for the team,” added the Lyon native.
And what of Spain, the defending world champions, who failed to progress past the group phase? “They fell apart completely in the first two matches. They had nothing left to give; they were running on empty,” said Djorkaeff.
“It was very strange to see that team – with those players – playing so badly. It was the end of an era. They just weren’t prepared for the battle ahead. On top of that, nobody expected the World Cup to begin at such a high level; all of the European teams have struggled at times.”