By Zach Bigalke
It was, frankly, quite shameful to hear Laurent Blanc whining petulantly on Saturday after UEFA drew their qualifying pools for the 2014 World Cup. “I don’t know why France are in the second group; why Greece, Norway and Croatia are ranked higher. We had to face one of the top teams, and we got the biggest. We should have been in the first group — and now we have drawn the best team of the last World Cup. But then, you have no choice.”
That’s right, Laurent, you have no choice… and do you know why? Well, Monsieur Blanc, it comes down to the simple fact that in the last two major international tournaments that your team contested — the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, under former coach Raymond Domenech — Les Bleus fail to qualify out of the group stage of either. Hell, France couldn’t even win a single game, scoring just two goals in six matches and allowing ten en route to two draws and four losses.
So while I can’t exactly explain being behind Norway, it is simple to see why France is lumped in just behind teams like Greece and Croatia. After all, the Greeks actually won a match at last year’s World Cup. And Croatia was a quarterfinalist at Euro 2008. Working off the FIFA coefficients, and how the scale slides to measure both recent and past performance but at depreciating rates, all this amounts to is a blustery show of emotion from the new French coach.
Why is Blanc upset? He certainly didn’t feel like speaking out against his team’s position in the second pool in the draw before it all went down on Saturday. No, he only bickered and argued that his team should have been a top-tier candidate after he found himself in the same group as current world and European champions Spain.
The old axiom states that you have to beat the best to be the best. France wants to be viewed as one of the best.. but when push comes to shove, it appears they would rather become a behemoth by feasting on minnows than by engaging the giant.
Of course, even the minnows have been nipping at French heels lately. Just like in 2002, France came to the 2010 World Cup with high expectations. In 2002 they’d been defending world champions. In 2010 they returned after having lost the final to Italy in the penalty shootout. Both times they stagnated and were knocked out before the knockout stage.
It is no wonder that Blanc is nervous. France was able to draw against eventual semifinalist Uruguay in their opening group match in South Africa, an ugly 0-0 affair that proved immediately how far removed France was from its zenith four years prior. Then the Mexicans outclassed them 2-0, and the hosts earned an emphatic 2-1 win. By that time the French roster had imploded in internecine internal warfare, Domenech was getting pushed out the door and former French hero Blanc was being ushered in to restore past glory to the squad.
But if the man in charge is shying away from a challenge, how much has really changed? Blanc knows that the 2006 run was more of a mirage than an indication of current power; if he did not, he wouldn’t be bloviating scared.
And that’s exactly what he is doing — talking scared. Blanc is all too aware of what has happened to the quality of the national team since he retired as a member of the reigning World Cup and European champion in 2000. He knows the current talent base has been gutted by the infighting. He knows that the team has been struggling to transition from the past for an entire decade.
But Blanc apparently can’t admit one simple fact — that his team no longer is among the best, in the world or even on its own continent. They’re welcome to get back to the top… but they’ll have to go through the champs to get there. Blanc must move forward and let his past be prologue, lest the team repeat the mistakes of its more recent history…
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