FRANCE HOPES NEW CROP IMPRESSES
France crossed a new threshold in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, having never before graced the finals on four consecutive occasions. Les Bleus have become a regular presence in recent years, having earned a reputation as one of world football's leading teams since the late 1990s.
The generation of players that included Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps and Fabien Barthez finally found a way past the obstacles that had blocked the route of earlier vintages. The fine team featuring Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana had stumbled at the semi-final stage in 1982 and 1986, but their successors went all the way to lifting the Trophy in 1998.
They may not have done it in style, but France just about satisfied the demands of their supporters by booking a place in South Africa. It took an extra-time goal in the play-off with Ireland to give them a 2-1 aggregate.
Since Zinedine Zidane, Fabien Barthez, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram all called time on their international careers in 2006, a new selection of senior figures has stepped forward. With Patrick Vieira having long struggled with injury, sole France 1998 survivor Thierry Henry has taken the captain's armband, with William Gallas the leader at the back and both Jeremy Toulalan and Lassana Diarra indispensable in midfield. Meanwhile, the emergence of Yoann Gourcuff, the talent of Franck Ribery and the rejuvenation of Nicolas Anelka have given the coach a variety of options in attack, where Karim Benzema, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Florent Malouda and Loic Remy will also be hoping to feature.
The French public have come to regard Raymond Domenech as a paradox unto himself since he took the reins in 2004. Praised for his communication skills when he first arrived, his perceived weaknesses in that domain were leapt upon after France failed to shine at UEFA EURO 2008. Domenech has yet to lift silverware with Les Bleus, but he is now the country's longest serving national coach and can point to a FIFA World Cup Final appearance as the highlight so far of a career that has had a steady upwards trajectory.