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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Why France fell apart
France players cannot hide their despair as they crash out of the World Cup
France players despair as they crash out

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It rates as the greatest shock in World Cup history - holders and favourites France are out in the first round.

Not by a fraction, either - by finishing bottom of Group A, without scoring a goal, losing twice.

How did Les Bleus go from champs to chumps, magnifique to merde?

These are the five factors that made France flop:


Growing old

The team which took the World Cup four years ago and stayed strong to win Euro 2000 will now be dismantled.

Did coach Roger Lemerre stick with the old boys for a tournament too far?

Guy Roux, ultra-experienced manager of Auxerre, certainly thinks so.

"They wanted to win Euro 2000 with the same side, and now look what's happened," he said.

"They had only two years to prepare for this World Cup, and it wasn't enough to do the job."

Fabien Barthez is 31, Marcel Desailly 33. Frank Leboeuf is 34, Bixente Lizarazu 32, Lilian Thuram 30, Youri Djorkaeff 34 and Manu Petit 31.

Only up front, where Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet are both 24, could France claim to have youth on their side.


Weak links

Before the opening game against Senegal, most critics busied themselves eulogising about France's star names - Henry's pace, Zidane's tricks, Desailly's dependability.

But lost from view amongst the thoroughbreds were a couple of ropey old nags whose presence would be critical.


English football fans couldn't quite believe their eyes when Frank Leboeuf pottered out for France's opener.

This was a man blown out by Chelsea for having the pace of a sleepy pensioner. Could he really have re-discovered how to run since leaving Stamford Bridge?

El Hadji Diouf soon answered that one.

Then there was the continued appearance of Christophe Dugarry. He may be Zidane's best pal. He may have played for Milan and Barcelona.

But he was poor at both clubs. And being a great player's pal doesn't qualify you for a place at the World Cup finals.

When was Jimmy "Five Bellies" Gardener ever picked by England?


Injuries

Billed as the star of the tournament, Zinedine Zidane's World Cup was wrecked by a meaningless friendly against Korea in May.

It was then that he picked up the thigh strain that ruled him out of the games with Senegal and Uruguay.

Back he came, patched up, for the meeting with Denmark - but by then the trophy was already slipping from France's grasp.

England's Footballer of the Year Robert Pires also threatened to light up the show - until his knee gave way in March.

So that was two stars gone, and Roger Lemerre's plans in need of a re-write. But this was supposedly a great team - and great teams can cope with the loss of a couple of players.

England are not a great side, but they beat Argentina without Steven Gerrard and with David Beckham at 70%.


Wrong time, wrong place

France's progress through the finals four years ago had a certain inevitability about it.

They were at home, they had never won the World Cup and they seemed blessed with the luck of angels.

When they were struggling to beat Paraguay, Laurent Blanc popped up from somewhere with the golden goal.

In the semi-final against Croatia, Lilian Thuram scored his first international goal in an age to see them through.

In the final itself, reigning champions Brazil were there in the flesh but not in the mind. Ronaldo played as if he were walking though glue and his team-mates rolled over and died.

This time around, the reverse has been true from the word go. Where before there was luck, this time there has been none.

Petit's clearance hits Barthez and goes straight to Diouf - 1-0 Senegal.

Henry dives in on Uruguay's Romero and gets a red card rather than a yellow.

When France were losing to Italy in the final of Euro 2000, Sylvain Wiltord popped up with an injury-time equaliser to save the day.

Against Uruguay he missed a gilt-edged chance in the last minute which would have won the game.

On such moments do World Cups ride.


Tactics

For some things you cannot blame Roger Lemerre.

How was he to know that a side featuring two of the world's best strikers could go 270 minutes without scoring, while the 1998 side which had old-school clogger Stephane Guivarc'h up front would win the World Cup?

For other things, the coach has to shoulder responsibility.

He was a regular at Stamford Bridge, checking the form of Petit and Desailly.

So how could he fail to notice that in William Gallas he had the perfect replacement for Leboeuf?

And how much sense does it make to play Djibril Cisse wide on the right when he has scored all his club goals through the middle or dropping back to link up with his midfield?


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GROUP A
  P GD PTS
DENMARK 3 +3 7
SENEGAL 3 +1 5
URUGUAY 3 -1 2
FRANCE 3 -3 1

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