The Euro's Dark Rooster: Why Les Bleus May Have Something to Crow About
It's hard to believe that the French national team ruled the international football landscape at the dawn of the new century. They were the Spain of 2002, trying to win a third consecutive major international championships. Also like the Spaniards in this month's Euro, they entered the 2002 World Cup as favorites to repeat.
France's tournament-opening loss to Senegal and their subsequent inability to beat Uraguay or Denmark put an end to the magic. And how: a quarterfinal loss in the 2004 Euro to Greece, the headbutt-marred loss to Italy in the 2006 WC final, failure to survive group play in the 2008 Euro, the Thierry Henry handball incident in WC qualifying, an ugly prostitution scandal, the mutiny in South Africa in 2010, the Raymond "none of this is my fault I'm just the coach gimme my money" Domenech circus...
...one could be forgiven for thinking France's turn of the century heroics might also have been once in a century.
Don't look now, but the boys in bleu may be back.
Although coach Laurent Blanc's gaudy 20-game streak without a loss deserves several asterisks, the fact is that the always-talented French side is starting to play as a team consistently for the first time in a decade.
What's more, this is all happening while some of the team's offensive stars are showing great form. Three years ago no one knew if Karim Benzema would ever leave the bench in Madrid: today he is an integral part of the World's Most Expensive Team and a big reason why opposing sides can't afford to focus too much on stopping Cristiano Renaldo. Franck Ribéry has, in his recent national team appearances, finally begun to show a little of what he brings to Bayern-Munich and Samir Nasri, profiting from an improbable quantity of pitch time with talent-soaked Premiership champions Manchester City, also seems ready for the spotlight. That's a terrifying front three for opposing defenses...and we haven't even mentioned PSG speedster Jérémy Ménez or the French league's leading scorer, Olivier Giroud.
Defensively--where big international matches are, while perhaps not won, very often lost--the French are as solid as they've been in recent memory. Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (right) is one of the world's great young keepers, and backup Steve Mandanda would start for many national sides. The talented quartet of Revillière/Clichy/Koscielny/Mexès on display in a 2-0 win over Serbia last weekend was solid and stubborn, with Blanc rightfully leaving an imposing but unsteady Adil Rami on the bench until the last 20 minutes.Continued on the next page