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Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Team preview: France

By Ravi Ubha
Special to

Ten years ago, French football was on a real high, basking in the glory of a World Cup and Euro double. How times have changed. A recent poll conducted in France suggested that only 4 percent of fans felt Les Bleus could triumph in South Africa.

France, which overachieved at the 2006 World Cup by reaching the final, subsequently stumbled at Euro 2008 and needed the playoffs, plus a controversial refereeing decision, to secure a spot in this year's World Cup. To make matters worse, France was embarrassed by Spain in a high-profile friendly at the Stade de France in March.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Praised for his work in Germany, the French public has turned on the always-controversial Domenech. His marriage proposal on live television following France's elimination at Euro 2008 rankled, and he refused to integrate youth into the squad until he had no choice. Domenech's tumultuous time as manager ends after the World Cup; he will be replaced by Laurent Blanc.

Style of play

4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Despite the downturn in fortune -- and loss of icon Zinedine Zidane -- France remains high on talent. Franck Ribery, Yoann Gourcuff and Florent Malouda make for an impressive attacking trio, with Alou Diarra playing a holding midfield role. The problem is that forwards Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka are aging.

Players to watch

1. Thierry Henry. Competing in a fourth World Cup, what does Henry have left? Given that Domenech omitted Real Madrid's Galactico, Karim Benzema, from the roster, the soon-to-be 33-year-old Henry will be under immense pressure up front.

2. Yoann Gourcuff. Gourcuff has drawn many comparisons to Zidane. Gourcuff has sparkled for Bordeaux (although he dipped in the second half this season), where Zidane first made a name for himself. It's time for the 23-year-old to start producing at the international level.

3. Hugo Lloris. Amid the doom and gloom, Lyon's Lloris, also 23, blossomed into one of the world's top keepers. The goalkeeping position is a worry for more than a few nations, but seemingly not France.

Who's hot

Franck Ribery. Ribery sizzled at Bayern Munich, leading to even more speculation about his future. He's wanted by virtually all the big clubs.

Who's not

Henry. Henry barely got a game for Barcelona this season, making three league starts since the end of January. He last completed 90 minutes on Jan. 13 in the Copa del Rey.

Three key questions

1. Will the egos be kept in check? One of the reasons Benzema apparently didn't get picked was because of his ego. On a team with plenty of youngsters and veterans, but not many in between, chemistry figures to be especially important.

2. How will the sex scandal affect the team? Ribery, a married man, was the main French international implicated in a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute. However, because the news broke last month, not during the World Cup, it shouldn't affect Ribery or the team.

3. Is William Gallas healthy? Gallas is the vital cog in the center of defense, but he suffered a calf injury playing for Arsenal in March. Gallas played (and scored) in a May 30 friendly against Tunisia, but reportedly left practice on May 31. Even though he might be a troublemaker in the Arsenal dressing room, the 32-year-old with nearly 80 caps commands respect.

Projected lineup

G Hugo Lloris, Lyon (France)
D Patrice Evra, Manchester United (England)
D Eric Abidal, Barcelona (Spain)
D Sebastien Squillaci, Sevilla (Spain)
D Bacary Sagna, Arsenal (England)
M Abou Diaby, Arsenal (England)
M Yoann Gourcuff, Bordeaux (France)
M Jeremy Toulalan, Lyon (France)
F Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich (Germany)
F Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea (England)
F Thierry Henry, Barcelona (Spain)