Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The French Problem

Wednesday may take its place among the great days in English football history, as cross-Channel rivals France face the possibility of their second national defeat this year.

Although a victory against Cyprus should be automatique, Les Bleus find themselves among three UEFA Group Four teams that can emerge from the contest as automatic qualifiers, be sent to a playoff round, or suffer immediate elimination.

While English fans speculate on the yet-to-be-manipulated seeding rules for the 2006 tournament (bring on another Group of Death!), and attack their most successful manager in a generation, all would be forgotten should Raymond Domenech’s listless Continentals be sent packing.

An injured Thierry Henry puts France’s odds of qualifying at “60-40,” a more pessimistic take than Ladbrokes, who offer patriots only 1:50 return for a French win against Cyprus, and still have France sixth in line to hoist the Jules Rimet next summer.

The tenuous hold on qualification gives credence to the notion that the national side is showing its age – and perhaps returning to its pre-1996 form. The 1998 and 2000 Championships under Lemerre now read as high-water marks, undermined by the ignominious first-round exit in 2002, and 2004’s throttling of the goose at Greek hands. In the long view, Santini and Domenech begin to appear as analogues to Platini and Houllier, under whom France had moments of success, but twice failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Regardless of Wednesday’s outcome, England’s long-term success relies on FIFA’s world rankings catching up with reality. Superior tournament seeding requires England to consistently crack the top six or eight – a goal that necessitates displacing a regular such as France.

After 81 consecutive months in the table’s top four, including a persistent hold on the number two slot that lasted into this year, the French are now bobbing between 5th and 9th.

Alarmed at this vertiginous circumstance, FIFA’s Technical and Football Committees (coincidentally headed by M. Platini) announced in March that they would review the ranking procedure.

Perhaps they will devise a suitably obscure precept that has the effect of double-counting French victories. But in the absence of a legal prop, or at least a quarterfinal showing in Germany, Domenech may find himself presiding over the demise of French football, in the manner of Villeneuve . Hopefully he won't take defeat to heart quite the way the Admiral did.

1 Comments:

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Kevin Kimmis said...

The decline of French football has been in evidence for quite some time. But comparing the fall to the downfall of Napolean or the French Republic at Trafalger, given that they just celebrated the 200th anniversary just a short while ago ... well, that's just cold.

I love it.

 

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