FRANCE LIMP TOWARDS 2010

PARIS - After an eventful and controversial qualifying campaign, France head to South Africa in 2010 hoping to put the disappointment of losing in the final to Italy last time around in Germany behind them.

PARIS - After an eventful and controversial qualifying campaign, France head to South Africa in 2010 hoping to put the disappointment of losing in the final to Italy last time around in Germany behind them.

Against all the odds, Raymond Domenech is still at the helm of Les Bleus, who stumbled their way to second place in their qualifying group behind Serbia before eventually booking their place in the finals via a playoff victory over Ireland.

However, any French concerns with missing out on automatic qualification were not eased by the success against the Irish, which was only secured courtesy of a controversial extra-time goal scored by William Gallas after Thierry Henry had clearly handled the ball in the build-up.

The dismal qualifying campaign, which produced just 18 goals in 10 matches and began with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Austria in Vienna, has set the tone for French attitudes towards their team and its coach.

The struggle to overcome Ireland and the subsequent furore over Henry's handball has not only embarrassed many French fans but also added grist to the mill of those who want to see Domenech replaced before next year's finals.

Domenech may have taken France to the World Cup final in 2006 before eventually losing on penalties but the string of lacklustre performances since then have failed to instil confidence that L'Equipe Tricolore can go one step further in 2010.

Indeed, French footballing legend Eric Cantona has joined the list of those calling on Domenech to be replaced by Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc.

"I think that Raymond Domenech is the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI," Cantona said.

One thing in Domenech's favour is that France also started the 2006 World Cup campaign poorly, only just qualifying for the knockout stages.

If Domenech can harness the multitude of footballing talent present in the current French squad, then Les Bleus will once again be considered a major threat to any team with aspirations of winning the World Cup. France were drawn against hosts South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay.

Coach:

l Raymond Domenech, won eight caps as a player and was appointed coach of France in 2004, leading Les Bleus to a World Cup final defeat on penalties against Italy two years later.

His management style has caused controversy, not least his admission to taking star signs into account when selecting his teams, leading him on one occasion to pick Vikash Dhorasoo ahead of Scorpio Robert Pires.

After a playing career that saw spells at Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux, Domenech spent four years as coach of Mulhouse, followed by a similar time at Lyon. He then took control of the French youth team for 11 years before replacing Jacques Santini in 2004.

The star:

l Barring injury, Franck Ribery, 26, will be expected to provide the creative spark in midfield for Les Bleus. After spending the first four years of his career in his home country with four different clubs, Ribery moved to Turkey at the start of 2005 before returning to Marseille.

He subsequently moved to Bayern Munich in 2007. - Sapa-dpa

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