May 16, 2006
Random World Cup Facts: France
Times Qualified: 12
Best Finish: Winners (1998)
Top French Political Issue: The French Parliament is debating a bill this week that will make it illegal to deny the existence of the Armenian genocide. With 450,000 Turks living in France, the bill can be seen as a crackdown on the immigrant communities that were at the center of rioting last year.
Football in France: France has not always been a power in world football that it is today. A dry spell in the 1960s and 70s of competitive success was ended in the early 1980s with the emergence of players like Michel Platini. It was then that they won the 1984 European championship and made two consecutive World Cup semifinal appearances. Another bad spell followed which ended with the failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Then came a six year run of dominance with a semifinal appearance at Euro 96, a World Cup win as hosts in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000.
Ligue 1, the French top division, is in the second tear of European leagues. Olympique Lyon have established themselves as the dominant club in the league having won their fifth consecutive title this season. The league is also one of the most defensively oriented in the world with little over two goals being scored on average each match. It is not uncommon to see several 0-0 results in a given week.
The French squad for this World Cup has about half of its players domestically based and most of the rest based in England or Italy.
Players to Watch: Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid) was a key part of France's dominance in the late 90s, and has announced that he will retire from the sport after the tournament. In defense, France's weakness is shown by the fact that Jean-Alain Boumsong (Newcastle United) continues to be in the squad. Gregory Coupet (Lyon) has an opportunity to shine between the posts with talent like this video illustrates.
Chances: France will be challenged by strong Swiss and South Korean teams, but should have no problems with Togo. Manager Raymond Domenech's looked tactically outclassed at times during qualifying, and it may happen to him again.
Prediction: France falls at the first hurdle again as they finish 3rd in their group.