Euro 2008 Team Profile: France
Nickname: Les Bleus (the Blues)
Jersey: Red (Away); Blue (Home)
FIFA World Ranking (April 2008): 7
Coach: The France coach is the ever-controversial Raymond Domenech. He loves the theater. He loves astrology. He has said, publicly, that he won’t put Scorpios on the team (sorry, Robert Pires!), and that Leos make bad defenders. He has two children with Estelle Denis, a TV broadcaster twenty-five years his junior. (Pictured.)
Domenech is also a lightning rod. Our France and Lyon blogger Inara theorizes that he says outrageous things to deflect criticism from his players. It seems to work. On top of that, he has an extremely dry sense of humor that sometimes gets lost in translation.
Captain: Internazionale midfielder Patrick Vieira inherited the captain’s armband when Zinedine Zidane retired. When Vieira is injured (which has been frequently recently), the armband goes to elder statesman Lilian Thuram.
History: France are one-time World Cup winners, back in 1998, and they made it to the finals in 2006, only to lose on penalties to Italy. They’ve won Euros twice, in 1984 and 2000. In the 2002 World Cup they were ousted in Round 1, and in the 2004 Euros they lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winners Greece.
Their road to qualifying was fairly smooth, aside from hitting a pothole named “Scotland,” not once, but twice. They lost both times in 0-1 games marked by solid play but a lackluster attack that was unable to finish. This led to their dropping into third place in the group in September, 2007, with only three games left to play. Fortunately Italy took care of their job for them, knocking Scotland out of contention before France even played their last qualifying game against Ukraine.
Expectations: After losing on penalties in the World Cup final in 2006, anything less than a win will be a disappointment for this team. And yet even getting out of the group stage will be difficult given the competition; Group C has three of the favorites: France, Italy and Netherlands. And even little Romania proved in qualifying that they’re no pushovers. France will have no easy games. Assuming they make it out of the group stage, their quarterfinal game could actually be easier that the ones preceding it.
Key Player: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Karim Benzema will have a breakout tournament. He’s only twenty, but he’s had an amazing year with Lyon, scoring almost at will. He was recently named the Ligue 1 player of the year.
Other Key Performers: Thierry Henry was the top scorer in Euro qualifying with six goals and is the all-time leading goalscorer for France with 44. His form at Barcelona hasn’t been great this year, but when he plays for les Bleus, he seems to rise to the occasion. And he has recently scored four goals in three games in league play, so he may have been resting up for Euros. Also look for Franck Ribery to tear up either wing, for Claude Makelele (creator of the Makelele role) to anchor the midfield, and for defenders William Gallas and Lilian Thuram — who holds the record for most caps with 138 — to keep attackers away from the French goal.
Who you probably won’t see: I would be surprised to see David Trezeguet, despite his good form for Juventus this season, and despite some impressive performances for France in the past that included the Golden Goal in the Euro 2000 final against Italy. Coach Domenech’s style is to lean away from goalpoachers like Trezeguet and toward more complete strikers like Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema. Consequently, Trezeguet has struggled to find a niche in Domenech’s attack. He has not been called up very often since World Cup ‘06, and when he has played (most recently in the friendly against England,) he had struggled. With Domenech having so many strike options, I’d be surprised to see Trezeguet even called up.
Squad: To be announced May 18, 2008. Don’t expect a lot of surprises; Domenech tends to go with the players who have done well for him in the past.
Team blogger: Inara and Jeff will be joining me in manning the France blog.
Magic Moment in France History: The World Cup final, 1998, of course!
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