France will hope to banish the ghosts of a dark day in their football history when they take on Switzerland in the World Cup on Friday on the anniversary of their infamous training-ground strike in the last tournament four years ago.
On 20 June, 2010, at the World Cup in South Africa, the squad shamed their fans and prompted fury from politicians when they refused to leave the team bus to train in protest at striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home for a foul-mouthed outburst at then-coach Raymond Domenech.
France went on to crash out of the tournament in the group stage, finishing bottom with just one point.
A win against Switzerland on Friday, however, would be a giant step towards winning the group this time around and show that France has turned the page on the nadir of 2010 under new coach Didier Deschamps.
France’s goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, one of only four players from that 2010 World Cup squad who remain in the side, has claimed that South Africa would not be on the team’s mind come kick-off.
“Honestly, we’re not thinking at all about what happened in 2010. We’re concentrating on what happens tomorrow,” Lloris said in response to a journalist’s question at a press conference Thursday.
“All our minds are on this match, what happened is in the past. We’re here to continue the adventure as long as possible.”
Deschamps looked exasperated that a question about the strike anniversary was asked, shaking his head in disbelief that the inquisition is still lingering.
A handsome win should help end it, as well as give a better indication of how much France has improved.
Deschamps hoping for sterner test
The French did not get much of a challenge from Honduras in their opening World Cup match, winning 3-0 against a team that was reduced to 10 men before half-time. This is France’s biggest challenge since beating Ukraine 3-0 in November in the second leg of their playoff match after losing 2-0 in the first leg.
“We haven’t been tested properly for a while. If it happens tomorrow, so much the better,” Deschamps said. “It’s when things become difficult that you’re able to judge not only the football side of things but the mental strength of the players, and we’ll get an answer tomorrow.”
Switzerland also won their opening match, beating Ecuador 2-1, and the team is enjoying their strongest period in years.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side has lost just once in 18 matches over the past two years and is currently 6th in FIFA’s rankings - 11 places higher than the French.
Nevertheless, Hitzfeld sought to portray his side as the underdog.
"We're in a special position with France being our neighbours and it's a derby, so to speak, but if we are to have a chance, we really have to go beyond our limits," he said.
"They are a team who have put in great performances and were impressive in their play-off win against Ukraine.
"They put in an explosive performance and played with confidence. They are very flexible and can switch very quickly, they work like a machine.
"We'll have to be aggressive on attack, counter-attack quickly and then we'll have a chance."
Hitzfeld bases his team around solid defending and quick counterattacks, stretching teams down the flanks.
France, however, does appear to have the edge in attack, with the forward line of Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena boasting pace and mobility.
Benzema scored twice against Honduras and has netted eight goals in his past seven games.
Midfielder Yohan Cabaye has meanwhile been passed fit after recovering from a groin problem.
“Yohan has fully recovered and there’s no problem,” Deschamps said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-20