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Time for France to look to the future

15 May 2014 01:16:52

Time for France to look to the future

For France, after qualifying in such dramatic fashion, this year's World Cup will be as much about banishing the bad memories of the recent past as building towards the future.

The farce of France's 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, marked by a players' strike and a group-stage exit, ruined the public's perception of Les Bleus at home, and subsequent incidents have not helped.

Samir Nasri's outburst towards a journalist at Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Patrice Evra's verbal assault on a host of respected media pundits in a television interview late last year two of the most notable episodes.

It has been one disappointment after another for the French since their remarkable run to the final of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but things are slowly but surely progressing under Didier Deschamps.

The captain of the team that were crowned world champions on home soil in 1998, Deschamps succeeded his former international colleague Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012, when the French were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Spain.

Under his charge, France have won just nine times in 19 games but they got the job done, finishing an acceptable second to reigning world champions Spain in their qualifying group and then dramatically beating Ukraine in a play-off, winning 3-0 at the Stade de France after a 2-0 loss in Kiev.

That maintained Les Bleus' record of having qualified for every major tournament finals since missing out on USA 1994, and the stunning nature of that second-leg display against Ukraine did a lot to restore a nation's faith in their team.

France's only outing since then was a promising 2-0 win against the Netherlands, in which Karim Benzema scored for the fourth time in five international appearances.

It was further proof that the 26-year-old Real Madrid striker is once again comfortable playing for his country after a shocking international goal drought of more than 1,200 minutes either side of Euro 2012.

"When he plays at that level it is great for us," said Deschamps of Benzema after the defeat of the Dutch.

"Let's hope he can keep it up. You can see it on his face. He is beaming and that is because he is feeling confident."

- Strength in depth -

In Benzema and 30-year-old Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery - who came third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the voting for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or - Deschamps has two world-class talents at the peak of their careers, but there is depth at his disposal too.

An exciting crop of young players is emerging too.

France enjoyed remarkable success at youth level last year, winning the under-20 World Cup and reaching the final of the under-19 European Championship, and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, the captain of the under-20 team, is already part of the full side along with Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

With that in mind, Brazil will be about building towards having a side capable of winning the 2016 European Championship, which France will host, although Deschamps still hopes to make a significant impact.

"You don't go to a World Cup just to take part, but it will help us to prepare for Euro 2016," he said.

"We have young players like Varane or Pogba, other players who have taken part at a European Championship before and even some older ones who have been at a World Cup.

"We need to find the right balance and the World Cup will serve as an experience."

A kind draw means that France will be hopeful of getting out of their group at a major tournament for the first time since 2006, with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras awaiting them in Group E.

"France now has the right to dream," declared one newspaper headline after the draw was made, but as the finals approach the mood is more one of cautious optimism.


AFP

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