by Joseph Mattern
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France is hoping for a repeat of the 1998 World Cup where it won the whole tournament as opposed to the 2002 edition in which it was held scoreless and bounced after the first round. With the talent this team has this year, it just might get its wish.
This team makes its 10th World Cup appearance in Germany, and manager Raymond Domenech has his squad ready to rumble. However, bettors may want to consider the team's uninspired play in qualifying and a March loss to Slovakia. Domenech took the reins for Jacques Santini after the debacle of Euro 2004 and until that loss to Slovakia, Les Bleus had been undefeated since then with him as coach. After the loss in March, Domenech was quoted by the Shanghai Daily downplaying the defeat, "this is the kind of game that helps you prepare for the future. I'm certain that this match was good for us," he said. In qualifying France had to rally to defeat Costa Rica and it played Germany to a 0-0 draw.
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Some say that the players are running the show for France, especially with Zinedine Zidane, Makelele, and Thuram coming out of international play retirement, using their stardom and power to weaken Domenech's authority and control of the team. This is nothing new for France, however. Before its 1998 World Cup victory, this team was known as chronic underachievers. Top players returning to play seems like a pretty good problem to have, though. Even though France qualified for the Cup by finishing first in its group, it did so in lackluster fashion. Without some key bits of good fortune, the results might have been very different.
Team Captain Zidane likes France's chances. Reuters UK reported that he told sports daily L'Equipe, "The World Cup is not an important objective, it's the greatest objective. We'll go to Germany to win the World Cup." He went on to say, "We are not going to play a World Cup just for the pleasure of taking part. I don't know if we'll win it but we can make it, I'd stake my life on it."
Those are bold statements from the Real Madrid midfielder, who also referenced his increasing age and the glory of winning the cup when he said, "I'm 33, I'll be 34 in Germany. When one has won the World Cup and lost it four years later, winning it back is an magnificent and imperious obligation."
Les Bleus are in an interesting position this time around. The team won at home in 1998, and it won Euro 2000, but followed that up with terribly disappointing outings in 2002 and 2004. France is an up-and-down squad that is hard to characterize. Will they return to glory this summer, or fade quickly again? Only time will tell.
The French squad, ranked No. 5 in the world by FIFA, qualified for the World Cup by finishing first in UEFA Group 4, going 5-0-5. In Germany, France will start in Group G, along with Switzerland, South Korea, and Togo.
Outstanding midfielders are:
Zinedine Zidane -- The captain led France to the Cup in 1998, scoring two goals in the final, so he brings a wealth of leadership and experience to this team, but he's getting older. Considered by many to be one of the best ever, and a national hero in France, for obvious reasons.
Patrick Vieira -- At his best, Vieira dominates the midfield. He is big and strong, with great passing ability.
Claude Makelele -- Another of the older guys who came out of international-play retirement to help France qualify for the tournament.
Outstanding strikers are:
Thierry Henry -The Arsenal striker can score and will need to do so for France to be successful. Maybe the most important player on a team filled with stars.
David Trézéguet - He's a guy who has dangerous goal scoring ability, especially in the box. No one can forget his golden goal to win Euro 2000 for France.
Outstanding defenders are:
Lilian Thuram -- Another old veteran, Thuram's defense is stifling. He's considered one of the best defenders in the world.
France World Cup 2006 Odds: France is about 10/1 to win the World Cup, and is expected to advance easily through its group stage into the quarters.
Strengths: World-class strikers and midfielders make France a formidable offensive threat. Solid in all aspects.
Weaknesses: If any, maybe at goalie. The advanced age of many players may play a role also, especially against teams that like to run a lot. Also, with the return of Zidane, Makelele, and Thuram, Domenech may be forced to change the style of play that he likes his teams to perform.
France World Cup 2006 Outlook: Look for France to advance by outclassing their group and making people forget their pathetic showing in 2002.
France World Cup 2006 First Round Match Schedule:
Tuesday, June 13, Group G1 France v Group G2 Switzerland, in Stuttgart, 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 18, Group G1 France v Group G3 Korea Rep., in Leipzig, 9 p.m.
Friday, June 23, Group G4 Togo v Group G1 France, in Cologne, 9 p.m.
Updated France World Cup 2006 News: