Since ascending to the peak of the world game in 1998, France have roundly been tipped as contenders in each major tournament they have approached but not today.
This summer, for the first time in over a decade, France approach a major competition down the favourite list’s pecking order.
Les Bleus’ stuttering progress to the finals was highlighted by their infamous winning goal against the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs, a strike which rather summed up France’s messy and wholly unconvincing qualifying campaign, which followed swiftly on the heels of an utterly miserable Euro 2008.
The French coach Raymond Domenech has been heavily criticized for his outbursts, questionable tactics, forthright character and unique selection policy.
The nightmare for the struggling tactician came during the European Championships of two years ago after deciding on a risky selection policy with regards to his squad, les Bleus were simply awful as they earned one point from a possible nine to finish bottom of the group, hopelessly adrift of Italy and Netherlands, and even behind Romania.
Raymond is set to become the most capped national team trainer when France meets Uruguay in their opening World Cup game. It will be his 76th match in charge.
During his tenure, Domenech has been unable to foster any great team spirit or cohesion within the camp, at least on the competitive field.
When France tackled Ireland over two legs back in the autumn, it was not les Bleus who seemed to want victory most. Instead, they progressed to South Africa largely because of the fine goalkeeping of Hugo Lloris, a fact often overlooked.
Even when France reached the final in Germany four years ago, reports from inside their camp suggested that Domenech was not so much the ring leader of the team as a closely-associated spectator, with Zinedine Zidane used as the rallying point instead.
Les Bleus no longer have ZIZOU, their present day talisman is Franck Ribery, and the Bayern Munich winger who has provided them with much of their spark since Zidane departed the international stage. The 26-year-old has established himself as one of the finest offensive talents of the modern era.
Injury has utterly decimated season 2009-10 for Ribery. In and out of the team at the Allianz Arena due to physical problems, no one can really be sure of his form in South Africa. He is carrying a groin injury and will be operated after the world cup.
Otherwise, France have a number of stars at their disposal, but arguably the burden of expectation on them is too great. Thierry Henry, for example has steadily fallen out at Barcelona, Karim Benzema has struggled for regular starts at Real Madrid and has never really hit it off in the international arena to say the least.
Of course, these factors could allow such talents to go to the competition relatively fresh and with a point to prove, a fact that could play into France’s favour.
The over riding fear however remains Domenech’s failure to pick the correct team. Faced with a relatively kind group of South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico, France should certainly be aiming to progress to the knockout stages, but that could as well be the end of the road for them.
On paper, Les Bleus do possess the potential to go far in the competition but Domenech is not the man to break the code, and success will require something extra special from the team, as well as a little luck. Come Brazil 2014, we may actually be able to discuss France as serious candidates.