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Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 15:13 UK

A rebuilding job for Les Bleus

France win the 1998 World Cup (left) and are eliminated from the 2008 European Championship

By David Ornstein

Aside from failing to qualify for Euro 2008 altogether, the French national team could not have marked the 10-year anniversary of their 1998 World Cup triumph in more disastrous fashion.

Two years after Italy denied them a second World Cup, and eight years after they beat the Italians to Euro 2000 glory, the Azzurri effectively sounded the death knell of the 1998 generation in Zurich on Tuesday.

The warning signs were plentiful as a sluggish France side played out a drab 0-0 draw with Romania in their opening Group C match.

Les Bleus' subsequent 4-1 defeat by Holland was their heaviest loss at a major international tournament since 1958 and more than enough to set the alarm bells ringing.

Victory over Roberto Donadoni's men would still have sent France through to the quarter-finals but a calamitous sequence of events saw them beaten 2-0 and unceremoniously dumped out of the finals.

"From the beginning of the tournament, everything has gone wrong," the former France captain Marcel Desailly told BBC Sport.


The French arrived in Austria and Switzerland off the back of an unconvincing qualification campaign, in which they were beaten at home and away by Scotland, and minus their talismanic playmaker Zinedine Zindane for the first time at a major competition since 1992.

Raymond Domenech, the France coach, remained faithful to an ageing nucleus which included 36-year-old Lilian Thuram, 35-year-old central midfielder Claude Makelele, 31-year-old Willy Sagnol, who spent much of the season sidelined and the injury-prone 31-year-old Patrick Vieira.

The 56-year-old also turned to players such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Eric Abidal, who had all struggled for form with their clubs.

There was considerable anger in France that the likes of in-form midfielder Mathieu Flamini, David Trezeguet, the second-highest scorer in Serie A, left-back Gael Clichy, centre-half Philippe Mexes and goalkeeper Sebastian Frey failed to make the final squad.

Coming in for the injured Henry and Vieira, Karim Benzema and Jeremy Toulalan made their major tournament debuts against Romania and France produced a dreadfully inept attacking performance.

Lilian Thuram (left) and Willy Sagnol (right)
It's down to the players...there was no enthusiasm they did not take the lead, they did not take the game into their own hands

Former France captain Marcel Desailly
Henry returned against the Dutch but could not prevent France being taken apart, their defence cruelly exposed by a more youthful, creative and energetic set of attackers.

The capitulation against Italy began before a ball had been kicked as Thuram and Sagnol were left out of the side after reportedly telling Domenech they were not in the right frame of mind to compete.

Cruelly stripped of the dynamic Frank Ribery - seen as the heir to Zidane's throne - through injury after just 10 minutes, Domenech's four-year tenure was unravelling in front of his eyes.

Abidal, who had been heavily criticised for his performances at left-back in the first two games, moved inside to partner William Gallas and was terrorised by Luca Toni before being sent off for bringing down the Italian striker on 24 minutes.

When Henry deflected Daniele De Rossi's free-kick past his own goalkeeper, the game was up.

"There has been no enthusiasm, we didn't manage to play at our level and we were missing a playmaker who can provide the link to the attack," said Desailly.

"The players got quite annoyed because Domenech changed his mind all the time. But it's down to the players - they did not take the lead, they did not take the game into their own hands, as if to show, 'It's difficult for us but we are trying to play'."

Desailly calls for new French generation

Patrice Evra, who came in for Abidal at left full-back. said: "It is terrible, terrible. For a nation as big as ours, with the players we have, to go out like this is terrible.

"There are no excuses. We were in the best possible condition. You can talk about the penalty, about the sending off.

"Yes, these affected the game but they are just details and we must take responsibility for being in this position."

The look on Domenech's face at full-time was one of disbelief but to those who had seen France surrender similarly at the 2002 World Cup, fall to Greece in the Euro 2004 quarter-finals and stumble to the World Cup final in 2006, it came as little surprise.

Although officially under contract until 2010, Domenech's position is considered by many to be untenable, his departure regarded as a matter of when rather than if.

His fate will be announced on 3 July after he meets with French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and technical director Gerard Houllier.

France's World Cup-winning captain Didier Deshamps has already been installed as the bookmakers' favourite to replace the beleaguered Domenech.

Raymond Domenech
Domenech will learn his fate from the French Football Federation on 3 July
"Deschamps looks like he's one of the best coaches for France. He has the experience, he is part of the 'French house'," said Desailly, who added that Jean Tigana could also be in the frame.

"We have to take the example of what happened and try and go forward and change it. There was no enthusiasm. We have not seen France playing well."

Like in 1994, when France failed to qualify for the World Cup and Eric Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin and David Ginola were deemed surplus to requirements, this is likely to prove the end of one era and the beginning of another.

"You have to start from new, a new generation have to take the lead," said Desailly. "Most of the old players will have to go and we will start from the beginning."

Goalkeeper Gregory Coupet is already 35 and has 28-year-old Frey breathing down his neck to take over between the posts.

Thuram and Makelele have, not for the first time, both announced their international retirement and that should facilitate the emergence of Mexes and Flamini.

Sagnol's questionable form and fitness - before the Italy game Desailly described him as being too "fatty" - will prompt intensified calls for Arsenal's Bacary Sagna, 25, to come in at right-back.

Ribery, Samir Nasri and Benzema are young, creative and can operate in midfielder or attack but finding a striker to lead the line if Henry - 30 in August - quits international football in the near future remains a problem.

Anelka and Sidney Govou must begin to perform, while 22-year-old Bafetimbi Gomis has potential but appears to have been somewhat over-hyped by the French media.

France begin their World Cup qualification campaign away to Austria on 6 September so Les Bleus must pick themselves up off the canvas immediately or risk missing out on the South Africa 2010 party.

Group C
17 June 2008 21:41
    P GD PTS
1 Netherlands 3 8 9
2 Italy 3 -1 4
3 Romania 3 -2 2
4 France 3 -5 1

see also
France 0-2 Italy
17 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008
Domenech fate left to French FA
17 Jun 08 |  France
Ribery has suspected knee injury
17 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008
Group C photos
17 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008
France team guide
15 May 08 |  France

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