By Robin Bairner
Come Wednesday morning, French football could well find itself at another crossroads. Trailing 2-0 on aggregate against Ukraine, les Bleus face a massive task to turn the fixture around and book a place at next summer's World Cup.
The rhetoric from the France camp over the last couple of days has been very positive, yet for all the bluster off the field, if they fail to produce anything but their very best on it then the likes of Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema can start booking their summer holidays as opposed to dreaming of lifting the game's greatest prize.
Head coach Didier Deschamps, meanwhile, would find his place under intense scrutiny and the likelihood is that, with his contract up in the summer, he would swiftly find himself out of a job, perhaps even voluntarily stepping down after the embarrassment of failing to lead such a talented group to Brazil.
Yet the former Juventus boss is not culpable for France's downfall, even if his win percentage is the poorest of any coach since Stefan Kovacs in the mid-1970s. The international side has grown rotten over the course of nearly a decade, with certain players displaying a sense of entitlement on the field that has often verged on disrespectful.
|DIDIER'S DESPAIR | CV Blotted By France |
|Dates|| Matches ||Win % ||Points per match|
|France||07/12 - present||17||41.1||1.47|
| Olympique de Marseille ||07/09 - 07/12||163||50.3||1.77|
|Juventus||07/06 - 05/07||41||68.3||2.29|
|Monaco||07/01 - 09/05||177||43.5||1.62|
Certainly in Kiev there were signs that les Bleus approached the match in a lacklustre manner as they wholly failed to compete with their opponents in terms of their industry or willingness to commit entirely to their country's cause. This was simply the latest in a long line of such lifeless performances dating back to the Raymond Domenech era, when the collapse of the national side began.
From the embarrassment of Euro 2008 to the Knysna strike of 2010 through to the end of Laurent Blanc in 2012 owing to dressing room trouble, it is an institution still haemorrhaging respect in l’Hexagone.
Blanc, now topping Ligue 1 with an impressive Paris Saint-Germain team, and Deschamps – perhaps the two most respected figures in French football over the last two decades with the exception of Zinedine Zidane – have both failed to ignite the national team. Neither can be considered a dud coach, having unequivocally succeeded in their previous, and in Blanc's case subsequent, posts.
Equally, neither can be completely absolved of blame - Deschamps' puzzling decision to start Samir Nasri on Friday was the overriding reason his side were so flat offensively - but there has been enough room for optimism in recent showings to suggest progress is being made, albeit steadily.
Equally, options beyond Deschamps are thin to non-existent, at least in the domestic market. Arsene Wenger has still not signed a new Arsenal deal but appears poised to stay at the Emirates Stadium and would surely not depart his post to lead a team considered to be egotistical prima donnas in their own country.
The majority of the blame must be apportioned to the players. Too many feel it is their right to turn out for their country instead of their honour; too many are not willing to match the desire of opponents who are often able to make up their technical deficit by sheer pride and force of will; and for too long this has been allowed to persist.
Deschamps and France must hope that Friday's defeat, and the subsequent press backlash on Saturday, acts as an awakening to a squad blessed with vast potential but seemingly loath to cover the hard ground to find it.
"We are ready to die on the field to get [to the World Cup]," Olivier Giroud replied on Monday when questioned by the media over the side's desire to overcome the first-leg deficit.
But too often have France players in recent years made grand statements to the press only to let their public down in subsequent matches. There is now a deep-seated distrust in the side, which could be blown away with a memorable performance in Paris. No coach will be able to win that back in the short or medium term.
Tuesday represents the last life, no doubt, for veteran members of the squad, but it should not for Deschamps, regardless of the outcome.
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