|FRANCE - HESITATING BETWEEN EXCELLENCE AND
FORM & RECENT FRIENDLIES
The world champions arrogant? Many could believe it if you look at the
way they played against an inspired Japan team. The dreaded French
defense has simply been absent during the whole match, and the
ball-recoverer and midfielder Didier Deschamps seemed not as easy as
usual. The consequences have not been long to come : Once again,
France run after the score and avoided humiliation only thanks to a, as
usual, genius Zidane, and a decisive substitution who saw Anelka shot a
decisive pass for Djorkaeff a few minutes after his arrival.
The score of 2-2 is worrying if you consider especially the fact that
the French defense seemed outrunned by the quick Japanese forwards.
Actually, speed is the major advantage of Japan who cannot rely on the
same technique and physical fitness than France, but Sunday evening
there were two teams, one was embarrassed and seemed old and tired
while the other practiced an exciting, although sometimes naive football.
In one year, 3 home goals from Russia, 2 from Slovenia in the same
conditions, 2 from Japan, again, 2 from Iceland... It seems France is
not attracted by "little" teams. Fortunately - should we say fortunately?
Tthe group where France fall for the Euro is a big one : No less than
Denmark, former european champion, Holland, super favourite, and
Czech Republic, who devastates everything and everyone during
Now here's the deal : Getting the best on these teams and finish at the
first place could be synonymous with "final victory". Because French
team is inconsistent, because she seems to hesitate during the first
half, because she - finally - takes blows like any other team, she'll
have to prove everything. France is definitely not the favourite for
Euro 2000, and maybe this is his major force. Never harass the wounded
big cat. Kill him quickly or die yourself.
Finally, for the final of Hassan II tournament, France beat Morocco 5-1
easily with a team of substitutes, without Zidane, Blanc, Deschamps,
during the major part of the match. Another paradox.
THE "OTHER" FRENCH STARS
FRANK LEBOEUF - DEFENSE
* Born in Marseille on January 22nd 1968.
* 1,83 m - 72 kg
* Clubs : Hyeres (1986-87)
Chelsea (since 1996)
* Selected 28 times, 3 goals.
* World Champion in 1998.
* Cup Winners' Cup in 1998 with Chelsea.
* English Cup Winner in 1997 with Chelsea.
* French Cup Finalist in 1995 with Strasbourg.
* Champions League Semifinal in 1996.
Frank Leboeuf has been one of the first French player to migrate to
Premier League, coming from Strasbourg. Raised to the status of star of
Chelsea, Leboeuf rapidly became popular in London thanks to his clean
tackles, his long forward passes, his spurtings.
For the French team, he's more often a substitute of Laurent Blanc. He
nevertheless got the opportunity to play the World Cup Final thanks to
the holder's suspension where he completely obliterated an uninspired
But anyway, he's more than a simple substitute. He's completely
integrated to the French defensive scheme, and will probably join his
Chelsea's buddy Desailly during the Euro in central position in case the
"president" would get injured.
JOHAN MICOUD - MIDFIELD
* Born in Cannes on July 24th 1973.
* 1,88 m - 82 kg
* Clubs : Cannes (1992-1996)
Parme (since 2000)
* Selected 5 times.
* French Champion in 1999 with Bordeaux.
Designated substitute of Zinedine Zidane, Johan Micoud came from this
new generation of talented French offensive playmakers, as well as
Dalmat or Dhorasoo.
"I'm no Zidane", insist the former gamemaker of the AS Cannes, who
succeded to the Juventus maestro in Bordeaux and who, next season,
will replace the little Argentinian Ariel Ortega in Parme.
"Jo" thinks his game can perfectly complement Zidane's one, but Lemerre
seems to hesitate putting them together.
After the Euro, he wants to take a new international dimension in the
Calcio. To get rapidly used to it, he will rely on his selection partner
Lilian Thuram and on Alain Boghossian.
He recently proved his skill and vision of the game in selection against
Scotland by delivering an accurate pass "a la Zidane" in the back of the
Scotish defence to his former Bordeaux's teammate Wiltord, who scored
right after from a crossed low shot.
CHRISTOPHE DUGARRY - ATTACK
* Born in Bordeaux on March 24th 1972.
* 1,88 m - 78 kg
* Clubs : Bordeaux (1982-1996)
Milan AC (Ita, 1996-1997)
FC Barcelone (Esp, 1997- dec. 1997)
Marseille (Jan. 1998 - Jan. 2000)
Bordeaux (since January 2000)
* Selected 38 times in the French national team, 5 goals.
* 1998 World Champion.
* 1996 and 1999 UEFA Cup Finalist.
Christophe Dugarry came back to the Girondins of Bordeaux this year,
after spending a hard time in Marseille while the team came close to
relegation. Now, back to his first and preferred club, he seems to be
much more confident and happy.
Often whistled due to a disturbing personality, he's often considered as
the bad boy of French football, being either loved or hated. But he
doesn't care, getting more and more serene as years go by and experience
He got an experience of high competition that many other French strikers
don't have. On the other hand he scored only 5 goals in 38 selections,
but has a dreadful head game.
By the way, he liberated the French team during the World Cup by scoring
the first goal against South Africa. His complicity with Zidane on the
field is obvious. Winner, on his left side, he lies heavy on defenses.
He'll be nevertheless out for the first match against Denmark. He will
also have to fight to get a stable place in a team where other new young
attackers are waiting for proving their maestria.
STYLE OF PLAY
Many people commented France's style of play since their victory in the
World Cup 1998. Franz Beckenbauer once ironically said that the victory
of the French was the victory of the side who feared the most his
This gives an idea of Jacquet's tactics during the World Cup, that is to
say defense before all : A team who takes one goal less than the
opponent wins. But Beckenbauer was wrong about the frightened
attitude : During the world cup France used a all-time high pressing on
their opponent. Any other team practising the same way of playing
would have taken many goals, but at this moment the French major
defense squad, composed of Thuram and Lizarazu on the wings, and of
Blanc and Desailly or Leboeuf in central defense, was imperial.
Moreover, Jacquet could not rely on a strong attack force : Dugarry, the
most experienced forward got rapidly injured after scoring the first
French goal of the cup. Thierry Henry misses some important occasions
even if he terminated the tournament as best french striker : Especially,
he misses the opportunity to beat the Paraguayan keeper in a one-on-one
confrontation, which almost cost France the match. Trezeguet did not get
enough opportunities to play, and anyway was not as decisive as now.
Finally, Guivarc'h wasted his participation.
Now things are different : The french defense is not invincible anymore,
but strikers are numerous and effective, therefore Lemerre, the new
coach, must compromise with it.
The thing that struck the most in the French way of playing is probably
controlling the ball. The way the French team can play with the ball is
second to none, except maybe Italy. Many big teams have been forced to
run everywhere by technically impressive French defensive midfield and
Pressing high seems not to be the major concern of Lemerre : While this
tactics greatly helped French players to take confidence and to rapidly
get the ball back, France practice now a sort of "wait-and-see" game.
This way of doing probably cost them many goals since their historic
victory. But this could also be expected as the French defense weakened
during those two years.
Like many teams, the French team tends to wait his opponent in her own
field half if she leads. This is always a dangerous way of managing a
score, especially against skillful opponents like Denmark or Holland,
future 1st round opponents. But France also proves a great morale :
Overtaken by Slovenia recently (0-2 at home in 10 minutes !), she
managed to get back and finally win thanks to his joker Trezeguet.
Experience proves that, first, a leading French side is hardly beaten,
and second, that France is vulnerable during the first 30 minutes. The
main concern of France's future opponents will therefore be to score
first and quickly.
The main drawback of the French team is probably that his gameplay
quality is far from being regular : Some teams considered as "average",
like the Czech Republic, have less individual talents but practice a
football made of discipline and regularity before all : They start
strong, they finish strong, and they do it during the whole tournament.
SOME WORDS OF CONCLUSION
Lemerre has found what Jacquet struggled to build without success, a
dangerous attack duo. Here's a clue : Hard to know which one is quicker.
Fortunately for the future opponents, Lemerre also lost the World
Champions defense invincibility. Very smart who could predict what
France will do for the first Euro 2000 match, do the job, or once again
stammering her football ? See you in Bruges.
"Et un, et deux, et trois-zéro !"
France started the Euro the same way she started The world cup : an impressive 3-0 win on a recent european champion, Denmark. While
many observers, and Bo Johannson himself said that there was an offside
on Laurent Blanc's first goal, everybody consider that the world champions
deserved this victory.
"It will be hard to stop the french attackers", Johannson noticed.
This is the major fact who emerge from this match : France found a new shining striker squad.
The match started as usual for the frenchs by a hesitating, somewhat shy
defensive attitude, and the Danes, starting very strong and physically
aggressive, created very rapidly two opportunities who failed only thanks
to an impeccable Barthez. French central backs, during the 15 first
minutes, were regularly surprised by passes of the Danes midfield behind them to the always restless Tomasson and Sand.
The first french goal sounded reveille of the french team who scored a first time just after the first quarter by an always opportunist Laurent Blanc, after a big work of Zidane and Anelka.
The first half terminated without any real opportunity for the to sides, except some spurtings of the always dangerous Anelka and also from Djorkaeff, who saw his run alone for a one-on-one with Schmeichel
stopped by the referee for an imaginary offside.
The first half terminated on the score of 1-0 for the frenchs.
The second half appeared much more dynamic and engaged for the two sides : the Danes continuously harrassed the french midfield to prevent
him of distributing sharp passes to the two arrows Henry and Anelka.
By the way they commited many faults, not always punished by a referee who seemed to have decided to let the game go ahead most often,
and probably because this resulted from a healthy dynamic attitude of the Danes in order to recover the ball rather than from a bad state of mind.
During the 25 first minutes of the second half the frenchs didn't see the ball very often, letting probably the Danes trying - and failing - to find a hole in the regrouped french defense, who meanwhile fixed the little central defensive problem they had during the first part of the match.
The game went this way until Henry, superbly put into orbit by Zidane, run alone on the left side to elude Schmeichel from a low-crossed shot (2-0, 65th minute).
After an hour of game, Vieira came as a substitute for a pretty good Djorkaeff and added more stability to the french defense, in fact the configuration of the world cup winners with three defensive midifelders was on the field again.
Finally, Wiltord replaced Anelka, and from this moment the Danes didn't see the ball any more, frenchs seemed to be satisfied with this victory and they concluded the match with a good pass of Henry for Vieira, who centre the ball for Wiltord to score the last goal of the match (93th minute).
The world champions despite once again a difficult start, have proven that their title was not stolen. But they'll have to make a better start against a Czech team who lived a nightmare against Holland, losing on a controversial penalty.
|France, the current
World Champions, are seen as realistic winners of
Euro 2000 particularly as many believe them to be a stronger side than
two years ago. Added to an experienced defence and a creative midfield
is a vibrant and pacey, young attack that wants to recreate scenes of
jubilation along the Champs Elysée.
Unconvincing in qualifying, and a recent friendly match against Japan,
which had to be settled on penalties suggests that France are not yet in
top gear, but the real test comes when the tournament begins on
June 11. They won the World Cup on home soil, as did the 1984
Platini-inspired European Championship winning team so they will
appreciate how Holland may benefit when the sides meet in the final
group D game on June 21 in Amsterdam. This group is surely the group
of death for this tournament as France must also face the Czech Republic,
whose 10 straight wins represented the only 100% record in the qualifying
stages of the finals and will certainly provide stiff opposition. Denmark
reached this stage for their fifth consecutive finals via the play-offs, and
despite being winners in 1992, they are most likely to bow out in the
It is no surprise that head coach, Roger Lemerre has kept faith with the
same set of players, who his predecessor, Aimé Jacquet assembled and
turned into World Champions, and he has changed little in the way of
tactics. Fabien Barthez was the No. 1 at the World Cup and since picking
up the French Championnat with Monaco last season he has joined English
Premiership winners Manchester United. Back-up is provided by PSGs
Bernard Lama who has played for his country 41 times but at 37 perhaps
is resigned to the bench in what will surely be his last major international
tournament. Ulrich Ramé of Bordeaux is the third keeper to travel.
Amongst the defenders are Chelsea duo Marcel Desailly and Frank
Leboeuf. Desailly has won most of the grand prizes in football in France,
Italy and England and with over 60 international appearances his
experience and confidence will be vital to Frances bid for glory. His
partnership on the domestic front with the ever-cool Leboeuf could prove
effective but that is to overlook the inspirational and long-standing
backbone of Les Bleus, Laurent Blanc. Having amassed 88 caps, many
as captain, he too knows what it takes to be a winner. Cruelly suspended
for the World Cup final versus Brazil, he must see this as his international
swansong. First choice full backs are likely to be Parmas Lilian Thuram
and the cultured, attacking left-back Bixente Lizarazu of Bayern Munich.
Frances midfield has several options and it is a credit to 31 year old
Didier Deschamps, whose leadership qualities and battling attributes
have ensured he has been a virtual automatic choice in the engine room
and why Patrick Vieira is not guaranteed a place in the starting eleven.
Yet, after what Deschamps would agree was a less than exemplary
season in club football, Lemerre might see the advantage of playing
Vieira with Petit as they have formed one of the strongest midfield
pairings in the English league with Arsenal. Without doubt the most
skilful and creative player is Zinedine Zidane, who pulls the strings of
his team and scores some important goals, and is considered as highly
as Michel Platini. Youri Djorkaeff has a fine goal scoring record from the
middle of the park and will expect to start the finals.
After the exploits in 1998, seemingly without a genuinely quality striker,
the situation has improved and in turn so have Frances prospects of
further success. Thierry Henry has just enjoyed a spectacular inaugural
season in the English top flight by scoring 22 goals. Even Nicholas Anelka
put his troubles behind him at Real Madrid and finished the season with a
smile on his face as he picked up a Champions League medal, and his
3 goals in 10 games is an impressive strike rate, which he can build on
this summer. David Trezeguet was the second highest goal scorer in the
French League and his tally helped Monaco to the title and he will be
pushing for a main strikers role. Christophe Dugarry has only scored
5 goals after 37 caps but is the most experienced attacker and will be
remembered for scoring the first goal for his team in the 1998 World Cup
and would settle for the chance to do it again this time.
Although Frances back-line might have lost half a yard of pace their front
line has gained more than that and put in another group the bookies
might have made them favourites. As it is they face pre-tournament
favourites Holland but can still be expected to progress.