Almost at the end. From this traveling sequence forcing the Blues to swallow nearly 10,000 km in a week, from these strange qualifications for the 2022 World Cup shifted by the coronavirus and which fall like a hair on the soup in the already tight program of the players, of these locked matches which sequester a deep boredom. The eleven of France faces this Wednesday March 31 in Sarajevo Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for the fun of it, please come back.
To correct their sluggish start against Ukraine (1-1), and their laborious trip to Kazakhstan (2-0), it is above all a question of “Do the job”, if we take the terminology of coach Didier Deschamps. The result, therefore, the essential as always. Because from one generation to the next, so are the Blues: the qualification campaigns are not their cup of tea. Rather a bitter potion, which even the 1998 world champions have indeed sipped.
From the start of the 1998 school year, their race for Euro 2000 began with a stay in Iceland, under the leadership of Roger Lemerre. The match and the score are zero (1-1) and the former assistant of Aimé Jacquet admits, disappointed, that the Blues “Could not solve the problem posed: eliminate a block”. Yes, already the famous “block”, says more precisely “Low block” today, this concrete defense strategy on which the Blues often crash. They are however in offensive mode in Reykjavik that year (Djorkaeff-Pires-Zidane-Laslandes-Dugarry), but unable to find the solution.
The whole campaign thus unfolds in pain, qualification only intervening in the last day, and again thanks to an incredible twist of fate: a draw between the two rivals of France, Russia and Ukraine, won by the latter on a gag goal at the 87e minute. Russia finds itself eliminated, Ukraine barrage, and France passes through a mouse hole. We know the rest: the European title conquered in extremis against Italy, a good sequence after the World Cup at home.
Another generation, same complication. This time, it is Raymond Domenech at the helm in search of the ticket for the 2006 World Cup. It is necessary to ensure the succession of the golden generation, and the key word is then “Reconstruction”. The foundations are cracked. A 0-0 against Israel, a meager 2-0 brought back from the Faroe Islands, and another 0-0 at home against Ireland. Fighting commotion. The former Zidane, Thuram and Makélélé come back as saviors of the homeland, and the Blues snatch their ticket on the wire. And then comes the superb epic, until overtime under tension in the final lost against Italy.
But the galleys continue. The qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup? The Blues beat Serbia and play-offs against Ireland eliminated (2-1) on the “famous” hand of Thierry Henry. Euro 2012? The Blues of coach Laurent Blanc trample until the last day and a small draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina (1-1). The 2014 World Cup? Second behind Spain, the Blues are still barrage, and against Ukraine, the nightmare of the first leg (2-0 defeat) turns into a thrilling memory thanks to the turnaround of the return (3-0). But the repetition confirms it: the France team limps in qualifying.
A very French exception
None of its great national rivals has exhibited such difficulties since the turn of the century. Over the last eleven campaigns for the Euro or the World Cup, England and Italy certainly miss the boat once completely. England is absent from Euro 2008 and Italy from the 2018 World Cup. But the hitch is an exception. Germany is barrage for access to the 2002 World Cup, and Spain also for Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. But they always send the case as a formality. For the rest, their routes are often fitness walks.
The Blues have known only once this type of walk: to go to Portugal to Euro 2004. Eight wins out of 8.29 goals scored and only two conceded. Except that the reward was a surprise defeat in the quarter-finals against the Greeks, future European champions. Demonstration by the counterexample. The Blues are more likely to describe themselves as a Cup team, capable of transcending themselves during the event, or of completely missing out (as at the 2002 or 2010 World Cup).
After the 2018 title, Didier Deschamps especially praised the adaptability of his team. On these qualifiers, these Blues, however, know the strategy of the wall that the opponents are developing, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, even if more playful, should not embark on the attack at full speed. For the moment, however, their adaptability remains very limited. History to keep in reserve for the Euro to come? Strongly the continuation.
Blueberries against Iceland for a place in the quarter
After their disastrous entry into the group stage of Euro Espoirs in Hungary (a 1-0 defeat against Denmark), the Bleuets raised the bar and kept their qualifying chance by beating Russia 2-0. But to get a ticket for the quarter-finals next May, you have to get a good result this Wednesday, March 31 against Iceland. Victory advised, even if a draw may suffice if the Danes, at the top of the group, win against the Russians.