Monday, June 9, 2008
I think this is France's most likely line-up to emerge from the dugout against Romania early tomorrow morning.
Gregory Coupet (in his tournament debut at the age of 35) manning the posts, Francois Clerc, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas and Eric Abidal in defence, Jeremy Toulalan and Claude Makelele shielding the defence, Franck Ribery on the right channel and Florent Malouda on the opposite side while Karim Benzema and Thierry Henry as the front two. It is basically a 4-4-2 formation.
In the absence of a unique playmaker in Zidane's mould (Samir Nasri can never be Zidane), Domenech will rely on the defensive stability provided by Toulalan and Makelele and the offensive fantasy provided by the attacking quartet.
Clerc has performed creditably whenever given the chance on the right-back slot which was practically Willy Sagnol's but the outgoing Bayern Munchen defender is struggling to recover from a knee injury and looked out of sorts against Ecuador.
My personal feeling is that Thuram is past it. If Domenech were to rely on Thuram to hold the fort, he could end up repeating Jacques Santini's mistake in allowing Marcel Desailly to overstay his welcome. The Rock, a hero in France's double victory in 1998 and 2000, was a spent force by Euro2004 and his frailties were severely punished by Greece in the quarters the last time.
Abidal is physically stronger than Evra, and if Henry does not make it, Nicolas Anelka is ready to perform on a big stage.
Pat Vieira will be missed. While Toulalan is a no-frills sort of a player, Vieira cuts an inspirational figure whose surging runs into the box, defensive qualities and commanding presence will be sorely missed.
The French will not win this tournament. Looking at the team, Les Bleus are in a transitional period, with Mandanda roped in to learn from Coupet and Frey and Diarra to understudy Makelele just as how Didier Deschamps learnt from Luis Fernandez in Euro92.
While many compare Ribery with Zidane, to me the Bayern playmaker is closer to Alain Giresse in size and style. Giresse was of course a member of the magic square that won Euro84. The other three musketeers were Platini, Tigana and Fernandez.
I remember coining the label Old Coqs for the French in my column in the Malay Mail in 2006. But they proved us all wrong. This time...hmmm