I’m delighted to be returning to Lithuania and the Faroe Islands [who were also in France’s UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying group]. We were very well received by the locals in both countries – and if their teams are able to offer us all six points again, I’ll not object (laughter)! Romania and Serbia would appear to be our toughest two opponents.”
Raymond Domenech on France’s qualification group.
The quote above is probably one of the only things to emerge from Raymond Domenech’s mouth that has been met with nods of agreement from all four corners of France. The Lyonnaise manager took the national team management position in 2004, after Jacques Santini moved to the English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur. The French immediately struggled in qualification for the 2006 World Cup finals, but Domenech eventually led the French to the World Cup, and in turn the grand finale- a mouthwatering match against Italy and a prestigious last game for the influential French captain Zinédine Zidane. Unfortunately for Domenech, the game ended in heartbreak, as the Zidane-less French crashed out on penalties- watching in sickening agony as the Italians paraded the FIFA World Cup trophy around the Olympiastadion.
Despite the misery, however, fans and pundits alike were shocked and encouraged with France’s trip to the final. Alas; any credibility that Domenech had won was lost at the Euro 2008 tournament, where France crashed out in the group stage, finishing last in their group below Romania, Holland and their 2006 nemeses Italy. After this poor showing, it was expected that Raymond Domenech would either resign or collect his P45, however the 57 year old clung onto his job and began preparing for the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign. The process started well, with France drawn into a seemingly easy group. It seemed that fate had handed Les Blues an excellent opportunity to avenge their poor Euro 2008 showing…
AWAY TO AUSTRIA.
France began their qualifying campaign in Vienna, on the sixth of September 2008. Austria lie 69 places behind France in the official FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings- but it seemed no one had told this to the Austrians. It took Austria just 8 minutes to go in front- Janko was able to convert when the French centre backs William Gallas and Phillipe Mexes mis-judged an Austrian cross. And, 33 minutes later, Austria scored a second- a horrible sense of deja-vu sickening the French. For once again an Austrian cross bamboozled the French defenders who let Aufhauser direct a header towards goal, though William Gallas got the final touch. France’s spirits were raised in the second half when Sidney Govou fired home but an Austrian penalty not long after secured a win for the Austrians.
WHERE IT WENT WRONG.
France went into the game with a few injuries to key players- most notably to experienced defender Lilian Thuram (who must have been beside himself when he saw Austria’s first two goals) and to Les Blues’ star player Franck Ribery. Govou did well in his absence, but it’s hard to see Domenech ever dropping Ribery.
France’s defending was dismally poor- Gallas and Mexes never looked overly comfortable and Mexes was at fault for the penalty. Thuram was missed.
The speedy winger fired home his tenth goal for France, though his effort failed to win the French any points. He looked dangerous when running at defenders though is unlikely to break into the first team as a wideman- Franck Ribery has that position covered and is arguably one of the best wingers in the world.
The defender had been struggling at Arsenal and seemed to carry some of his club form with him to the international stage. Was at fault for both the first goal, where he failed to track the flight of the ball, and the second, when his deflection saw the ball ricochet into the net. Not a night to remember for the Arsenal skipper.
HOME TO SERBIA.
It was expected that, come the end of the World Cup Qualification process, both France and Romania would be at the top of the qualification tree. However, both of the favourites had suffered shock defeats in their opening games (Romania were stunned by their visitors Lithuania 3-0) and thus needed good results in their second games. Romania nervously emerged victorious against the Faroe Islands- winning by just one goal to nil. France meanwhile hosted Serbia, and you could have forgiven the notoriously fickle French crowd for jeering at half time as the French headed down the tunnel at 0-0. However Thierry Henry scored in the fifty-third minute and substitute Nicolas Anelka doubled France’s advantage, putting France in the driving seat. Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic gave Serbia a glimmer of hope when he scored in the seventy-fifth minute, but France held on, scoring their first points of the campaign.
WHERE IT WENT RIGHT.
France were markedly improved during the second half, and Serbia simply couldn’t cope with France’s speed and skill. The defence looked stronger, and Serbia didn’t seem as spirited as the Austrians who humbled France in the first game.
Captain Thierry Henry led the French offensive and terrified the sloppy Serbian defence. The Barca man also teamed up well with Anelka in the second half.
Not really a villain, but Benzema was a disappointment and was hauled off at half time. The next day, a number of French papers voiced fears that Benzema is not developing into the player many thought he would be.
AWAY TO ROMANIA
A rapid Romanian brace stunned France and, if it wasn’t for a spirited French comeback, could have placed France’s World Cup position in serious doubt. It took just five minutes for Florentin Petre to put Romania in front and they scored again when Dorin Goian found the net in the sixteenth minute. Les Blues snatched a goal back in the thirty-sixth minute when Frank Ribery netted, leaving the French a goal behind as they headed in for half time. The French were much more dangerous in the second half and Yoann Gourcuff smashed home the equaliser from 30 yards. Both Henry and Ribery could have scored late on in the second half, but Romania shut up shop and thoroughly deserved their share of the points in this clash.
WHERE IT WENT WRONG/RIGHT.
France were abysmal in the opening stages, looking poor at the back and toothless up front. Romania took full advantage of this and capitalised on France’s lethargy, and could have scored more than two in the first half. However France improved after Ribery snatched a goal and could have won it in the second half, due to some excellent attacking play.
Frank Ribery. The winger has been linked with all sort of clubs and it’s not hard to see why. A threat throughout, the player could have won it late on.
Jean-Alain Boumsong struggled in England whilst playing for Newcastle and looked out of his depth in the opening stages. It’s a wonder Domenech still plays him.
AWAY TO LITHUANIA.
After amassing six points from a possible nine and lying above France in Group 7, Lithuania had proved to everyone in the group that they were not to be taken lightly. France were predicted to struggle away from home but, right from the off, were totally dominant in a game which they appeared very dangerous. Yoann Gourcuff was fantastic, both setting up the French forwards and testing the Lithuanian goalie himself, and Frank Ribery was also lively. France’s goal eventually came from Ribery, who converted from 20 yards after being set up by Gourcuff. France could, and maybe should, have scored more but will no doubt be very content with the three points.
WHERE IT WENT RIGHT.
Gourcuff proved too good for the Lithuanian midfield and simply dictated the game. The Lithuanians only ever looked likely from scoring from set pieces and, even then, the French defence held strong.
Gourcuff was simply fantastic and ran the Lithuanians ragged. Frank Ribery also put in a good performance.
No real villains; after a few poor French performances, most people will no doubt just be happy with a solid win.
HOME TO LITHUANIA.
Peculiarly, the reverse fixture of Frances last competitive international played out just like the last, with France emerging 1-0 winners thanks to a Frank Ribery goal. However Lithuania were much improved since their home defeat to France and controlled long periods of the game. In the end, Frank Ribery’s close range effort was enough to secure victory for Les Blues, but Lithuania had every right to feel slightly aggrieved with the score line. France now move up to second in the group.
WHERE IT WENT RIGHT.
Despite Lithuania’s improvement, they just simply didn’t posses the quality to effectively challenge France. Despite Les Blues recent shortcomings, no one can argue that, like England, on paper they have one of the best squads in the world.
Frank Ribery once again put in a great performance and once again scored France’s winner.
Thierry Henry for his horrendous miss near the end of the game. The usually deadly striker looked set to certify France’s win but instead commenced to shin the ball over form close range.
PLAYER OF THE CAMPAIGN (SO-FAR)
There’s no doubt that YOANN GOURCUFF played a pivotal part in the last three games, but the title has to go to FRANK RIBERY. The Bayern man is France’s top scorer despite playing in midfield and always looks dangerous. France’s midfield suddenly looks very dangerous and with Gourcuff’s playmaking skills and Ribery’s ability to hit the net it’s not hard to see why. Both men have been linked to some of Europe’s top clubs and the pair look set to have a glittering career in club, and international, football.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED?
Whilst France can play some extremely attractive football, the team doesn’t seem to be clinical enough. Numerous chances have been missed and, with the team 2 points behind Serbia, these chances need to be converted. The defence has also looked a little shaky when defending set pieces, allowing the opposition to defend deep and only attack France on the counter, hoping for a free-kick or corner. With the French not very good at taking every chance, this leaves Les Blues with precious little opportunities, and the team cannot afford many more draws.
Public reaction towards France’s campaign so far has been rather lukewarm. The majority of fans still think that Raymond Domenech needs to leave if the French stand a serious chance of winning the 2010 World Cup, but qualification still looks like a strong possibility. Putting the poor defeat to Austria aside, France have looked solid and there’s no doubt that when they’re on form, they’re one of the better sides in the world.
Domenech’s position seems to be safe at the minute, but anything less than 9 points from his next 5 matches could see the manager looking for a new job.
So far, a solid start for France. The opening defeat to Austria came as a rather surprising blow, but since that result 10 points from a possible 12 marks a significant improvement. France lie in a good position and are looking like they will make the 2010 World Cup. Whether Raymond Domenech is managing the team at the tournament is however an entirely different matter…
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