World Cup 2014: I’ve still got ‘Les Bleus’ for You.


Did the referee have the Unders in a ‘Total Goals Scored’ Market of +/-7, with his local tout?

With Karim Benzema a half-step away from increasing his score involvements tally for the match – for both sides – to Five out of a prospective Eight, this ref blows the whistle on a wonder-strike?

Not to mention the penalty he had saved.

If Benzema misses out on the Ballon d’Or by two goals or less, he’s going to be steaming at the referee of this game, or the game of inches in the ‘Official Goal-line Review’, that’ve robbed him of them, so far in Brazil 2014.

Nevertheless, if one was to take the Coaches’ perennial maxim of finishing off a match, the way you want to start your next one, then until the curious moment the referee chose to blow the final whistle, it was the doomed to defeat Switerland, whose players were showing admirable heart, in adhering to that doctrine.

The fabulous French had switched off and were seemingly flirting with their form, for what it now turns out (after their exciting 2-1 victory over Honduras), will very much be, a live rubber, in their last scheduled Group E match, against Equador.

Until their final example of the offensive thrust they had so rampantly displayed for the first 75 minutes returned, only to have its moment of shining tumescence, cruelly disallowed by the illogically premature whistle blown by the overeager ref.

Talk about stealing someone’s thunder eh?

Well, it ended 5-2 France, over Switzerland. Each team now enters Phase Three of the Group Stages in Brazil 2014, with the prospect of facing an opponent they will each be heavily favoured to beat. With a goal difference of ‘+6’, the French would have to have something go drastically wrong – Rainbow Warrior Sabotage attempt nuclear meltdown wrong – to lose top spot in Group E.

As for the Swiss, their attitude and fighting spirit were as admirable as their tactical and practical defending on the pitch was risible. Cutting their deficit in such a humiliating loss to three, thus limiting the damage to their goal difference to remain at minus-2, going into Group Stage, Phase 3 is something they can build on.

They only have Honduras to face. And while applying such a pejorative to other CONCACAF countries so far this tournament, has proved suprisingly misguided – see Mexico vs Brazil; Costa Rica vs Uruguay; Costa Rica vs Italy – Honduras hasn’t been able to so far, prove their own doubters wrong.

Either way, the Swiss already showed they will not stop trying, even with circumstances heavily against them. That bodes well for assuming they will continue in that vein, in circumstances that should potentially be heavily in their favour. They are a good team, and lest we forget, the seeded team in Group E.

As for the French! Oh la la! And Wohohohohohohoooo! (not sure I spelt that right). Since 1998, it’s been wax on, wax off for French teams at the Mundial. The glory of winning their Home World Cup at France ’98, hammering Brazil in the Final, was succeeded by the ignominy of not scoring a goal and being bundled out immediately in Japan/Korea 2002. That was in turn followed by making the Final of Germany 2006, again dominating a heavily favoured Brazil – with retiring talisman Zinedine Zidane acting as inspiration – this time in the Quarter-Finals.

Alas the insidious pattern continued for South Africa 2010 and was evident before the Mundial even started. France’s eventual qualification after a tight playoff with Ireland, was only sealed after Thierry Henry handled the ball to set up what would be the ‘winning’ goal.

Dubbed the ‘Hand of Frog’, in snide reference to Maradona’s goal against England in the Quarter-Finals of World Cup Mexico’86, it meant the French team in general, not to mention, the once universally admired and respected Henry in particular, entered the tournament under a heavy cloud.

Quirky French Coach Raymond Domeneche hadn’t been popular, even when his side was making the Final, four years prior. Not having the talismanic equivalent of Zinedine Zidane, France’s 2010 campaign dissolved as Domeneche’s players’ disdain for him boiled over, leading to a full-on revolt. As a result Nicholas Anelka was expelled immediately and many players including Fabrice Evra and Franck Riberry, were implicated in later official recriminations … I mean … enquiries.

Qualification for this tournament wasn’t any sort of cakewalk either. Drawn in a qualifying group with Spain, France predictably finished second. They ended up being drawn to face Ukraine in the two-leg playoff for qualification. They promptly lost the first leg in Ukraine 2-0. That left France needing to score at least two goals at home without reply or ideally, win by three clear goals, to avoid the lottery of penalties, or the tragedy of being eliminated on Away Goals.

Now coached by the storied Captain of their successive World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000 triumphs, Didier Deschamps, the French found three goals against a Ukraine side reduced to 10-men in the first half. Even better, they kept a clean sheet and through they went to the home of jôgo bonito, playing anything but beautifully.

Against Honduras, circumstances served to overshadow France’s true worth. Another sending off – arguably Honduras’ best player, Wilson Palacios – muddied the waters of the eventual 3-0 result. After what they did to Switzerland – a 5-2 drubbing that should have been a tennis score, with a double-break – the result is indelible.

Clear as the finest crystal looms the reality of France’s binary pattern of success in World Cups. From Yes, to No and back again. Rinse and repeat. In Brazil 2014 it is easy to see another Yes, taking them into a projected quarter-final with Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

After cleaning Brazil’s clock in both their previous ‘Yes’ World Cups, it would seem Les Bleus have another South American powerhouse in their sights. Maybe the next pattern they establish will be a record-breaking one – the first team after Brazil to reach three World Cup Finals in this latest footballing generation. What’s more … The first team from Europe to do so. The Brazilians won two of their three. Can France equal that and beat them at their home game?

The way they played against Switzerland, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Leave a Comment