"We were killed on the pitch. It was truly ridiculous. It was a case of Division One v Division Four - amateurs v professionals."
Those words belong to football's Mr Misery Nicolas Anelka, and were given in reference to France's 2-0 friendly defeat v European champions Spain back in March when he was asked about his nations chances at this summer's World Cup.
Runners-up last time out, thanks to a career swansong from France's greatest-ever player Zinedine Zidane, the current Chelsea front-man sees his side's prospects looking far gloomier in South Africa.
Raymond Domenech's side are one of international football's great mysteries, you never quite know what to expect - just how Domenech remains their coach is mystery enough to many football followers following their hapless showing at Euro 2008 and their well-publicised qualification campaign to the 2010 World Cup.
Going into previous tournaments the French could call upon players of the highest order in the world - think Zidane, Theirry Henry, Robert Pires, Claude Makelele and Lillian Thuram. Domench no longer has such a luxury.
The French are caught in flux - a side caught between elder members playing their finals rights as international footballers and up and coming talents still looking to significantly impact on the world stage.
Their current talisman Franck Ribery, the only bright light in a Euro 2008 campaign that saw them fall at the first hurdle in the tournament's 'group of death', is possibly the only player they have at their disposal who can propel them anywhere near the levels enjoyed by his predecessors.
That is not to say that Domenech does not have a talented squad to work with. The likes of Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra, Lassana Diarra, Henry, and of course Mr Misery himself are all proven performers in Europe's best leagues, and in the Champions League, whilst Arsenal's Samir Nasri is beginning to blossom into the player we all hoped he might be and Chelsea's Florent Malouda is currently enjoying a vein of form that puts him in contention to be named runner-up to the sure shoe-in of Wayne Rooney as PFA Footballer of the Year in the coming week.
One factor the French certainly have in their favour is the turn of luck they had in being picked in Group A alongside Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa in one of the weakest of the eight groups at this summer's finals. Reach the summit at the end of the first stage and they would likely find themselves up against Nigeria, South Korea or Greece - presuming Diego Maradona does not oversee what would be probably be the biggest World Cup underachievement since France failed to find their way out of a group containing Denmark, Uruguay and Senegal as defending champions in 2002.
Should they then reach the quarter-finals they will know as well as anyone that all it takes is an inspired individual performance, a lucky twist or an unlikely hero to make, or break, a dream.
And let us remember that should you go to Dublin, they'll be plenty of people happy to tell you that they are lucky to be there at all.
WORLD CUP WORRIES
When England were drawn in the same group as the USA - one of the first things that came in to my head was not the thought of David Beckham possibly coming up against Landon Donovan (of course, now that will not happen), the possibility of a recurrence of one of the World Cups biggest shocks when the US beat England at the 1950 World Cup in Belo Horizonate or even the potential drinking session for England fans for a summer Saturday evening kick-off.
Unfortunately one of my first thoughts was the potential security risk that this game could be - what I imagine would be somewhat of an ideal scenario for extremist groups in search of the spread of terror in front of a global audience impacted against two of their major targets.
Staging the World Cup in South Africa has many risks, some obvious, some less so, but certainly none as important as handling the threat of terror. Recent postings on extremist websites can leave us hoping that those in the corridors of power at FIFA have not a made mistake that would forever scar the games most illustrious competition.
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