July 12th 1998 and France rejoices. A nation comes together to celebrate a Zinedine Zidane-inspired national team defeat the much-fancied Brazil in the World Cup Final in Paris. Among the cheering masses, one could assume, are a young Franck Ribery or a Hugo Lloris. Maybe even a four-year-old Paul Pogba. Surely witnessing such a monumental event will inspire the next generation of footballers to greatness.
Fast forward 15 years. The same national football team stands on the brink of missing out on World Cup qualification for the first time since USA ’94. The aforementioned players are now grown up and the responsibility of overturning a 2-0 first leg deficit to Ukraine lies with them and their colleagues.
To make matters worse, it’s not as if they can turn to their watching compatriots to help carry them over the line. A survey conducted by Le Parisien magazine asked if fans if they continued to support Les Bleus in spite of everything. A whopping 84% replied ‘no’.
From the indignity of infamous Thierry Henry handball of 2009, to the in-fighting at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, along with a number of scandals involving high-profile players, the antics of the national team appear to have taken their toll on France’s football-watching public. The current squad of players are not doing much to inspire.
Will Le Tricolour being flying high at the Stade de France come full-time on Tuesday night? Or will an ever-improving Ukraine side finish the job they started? The powers-that-be in the French Football Federation will be hoping, at least, that the team put on a performance that will in some way inspire the future generation of footballers. Then again, if Monsieur Zidane couldn’t achieve that, who can? Bonne Chance.