France putting past behind them (Group A team profile)

May 26th, 2010 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Thierry Henry By Tom Merton
Paris, May 26 (DPA) France reached the 2010 World Cup in eventful and controversial circumstances but Raymond Domenech hopes Les Bleus can put that behind them and at least return to the final in South Africa.

The 1998 world champions France tallied just 18 goals in 10 qualification matches for 2010 in finishing second place behind Serbia and being forced to go through the play-offs.

Domenech’s men eventually held off Ireland to book their spot at South Africa 2010 - but only after the winning extra-time goal was scored by William Gallas after Thierry Henry had clearly handled the ball in the build-up.

The game almost became a diplomatic incident with Ireland’s Justice Minister Dermot Ahern calling for a replay and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apologising for the controversial nature of his country’s victory, although like football’s ruling body FIFA, Sarkozy dismissed any suggestions of a re-match.

The struggle to overcome Ireland and the subsequent furore over Henry’s handball has not only further embarrassed many French fans but also added grist to the mill of those who want to see the 57-year-old Domenech replaced before South Africa.

Questions lingered long as to how a squad that includes the likes Franck Ribery, Henry, Yoann Gourcuff, Patrice Evra, Nicolas Anelka and new sensation Andre-Pierre Gignac could come so close to missing out on qualification.

Anelka called out his team to straighten up their act or they will be bounced in the first round.

“We have to work to find an answer, if not it’s just not possible. We’ll be coming home after the three matches,” Anelka told Orange Sport recently.

“I can’t explain it - we have the players, we have the qualities to do something good. But in terms of positioning, tactics and confidence, the Spaniards were in a different league to us.”

Still, for all the talk of his head on a platter (and being replaced by Laurent Blanc), Domenech was the man who guided the French to the 2006 final and got them past Ireland - plus Henry’s best attempt at the “Hand of God”.

Another thing in Domenech’s favour is that France also started the 2006 World Cup campaign poorly, only just qualifying for the knockout stages.

If Domenech can harness the multitude of footballing talent present in the current French squad, then Les Bleus will once again be considered a major threat to any team with aspirations of winning the World Cup.

A major hindrance in Domenech’s ability to reach and lead the team will be his star players’ egos.

“They must be clever and forget their ego to realise that the only thing that matters is the team, not them,” Domenech told the French sports daily L’Equipe recently.

The coach: Raymond Domenech, 57, won eight caps as a player and was appointed coach of France in 2004, leading Les Bleus to a World Cup final defeat on penalties against Italy two years later.

His management style has caused controversy, not least his admission to taking star signs into account when selecting his teams, leading him on one occasion to pick Vikash Dhorasoo ahead of Scorpio Robert Pires.

Following a playing career that saw spells at Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux, Domenech spent four years as coach of Mulhouse followed by a similar time at Lyon. Domenech then took control of the French youth team for 11 years before replacing Jacques Santini in 2004.

The star: Franck Ribery , 26, will be expected to provide the creative spark in midfield for Les Bleus. After spending the first four years of his career in his home country with four different clubs, Ribery moved to Turkey at the start of 2005, before returning to Marseille.

Ribery subsequently moved to Bayern Munich in 2007 for 25 million euros and currently earns 8 million euros a year at the Allianz Arena. However, his undisputed talent means he is thought to be still a target of Manchester United, big-spending Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

He earned his first cap with France in a 1-0 victory over Mexico May 27, 2006 and also played in the 2006 World Cup final defeat to Italy.

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