Lifestyle & Belief

France soccer World Cup fans have little faith in their team


France World Cup Team Statistics: Group A

Status: Knocked out round 2

World Ranking: 9

World Cup 2010 Results: 0-2-1

Total goals scored: 1

Total goals scored against: 4

France World Cup Schedule: June 11 - Uruguay (o-o draw); June 17 - Mexico (0-2 loss); June 22 - South Africa (1-2 loss)

France World Cup Soccer 2010

The French have always been smugly superior about their food, fashion, literature — even politics. But France never had any illusions about its soccer team. Then came ’98 with its World Cup triumph on home soil, and the Champs Elysees hadn’t witnessed such celebration since the liberation of Paris.

Victory invigorated a nation that had endured a long, steady decline on the world stage. And the team, with its captain of Algerian descent and a multi-cultural cast, helped stem the tide of a right-wing revival. But it proved only a reprieve. The Le Pen right rebounded, France endured fierce riots and culture wars abounded.

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The soccer team no longer serves as a unifying force, except perhaps in collective distaste. It bounced out of the 2008 European championship without a win. Its listless Cup qualifying campaign met success only in the waning moments — and then only with a blatant act of cheating by captain Thierry Henry. With several prominent players now linked to an underage prostitution scandal, disaffection with the team is high. World Cup ticket sales indicate that French fans will be among the most conspicuous no-shows in South Africa.

France World Cup History: Champion in 1998, runner-up in 2006. How to explain 2002 when France failed to score a single goal? Not a reliable side.

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France World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Despite considerable talent, the French team seems to have lost its way. According to a poll in the French daily France-Soir, only 5 percent of respondents believe France has any chance to win the Cup — remarkably little faith in a team that reached the final just four years earlier.

France World Cup Team Coach: Raymond Domenech

Despite becoming the first French coach ever to guide Les Bleus to three successive major tournaments, he is scorned — not just by fans, but by players past and present. Nobody can explain the fluctuating lineups and Domenech, an astrology buff, might not be joking when he says player decisions may be based on the alignment of the moon and stars. France has already chosen his successor.

France World Cup Team Strength: France’s talent matches up well with any. Its star players are prominent among the most powerful club teams and could still find their collective rhythm for country too.

France World Cup Team Weakness: Domenech has somehow taken a starry assemblage and transformed it into a dispirited, listless lot that is far less than the sum of its parts. Former star Eric Cantona pronounced the French boss “the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI.”

France World Cup Key Player: Franck Ribery

The 27-year-old Ribery is a decided counterpoint to his oft-sluggish team. His bravado dashes down the wing can be stirring and he is capable of nifty tricks with the ball, but too often he finds his runs unsupported and can become frustrated. A disgruntled Ribery is a danger to his own side. He missed the Champions League final for Bayern Munich after being red-carded for a foolish ankle stomp. With that disappointment on top of a season of nagging injuries, and now with his name linked to the prostitution scandal, it’s anyone’s guess what Ribery can muster for South Africa.