I’ll be honest, I had France crashing out in the Group Phase.
Despite the fact that the core of this French team had won two major trophies (The World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000), I couldn’t really get over their performance in the more recent championships. And when I saw that they were going to be trotting out the same-old-same-olds for this World Cup, well, it didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Which, in retrospect, is a bit silly. I mean, it isn’t like Patrick Vieira, Claude Makalele and Thierry Henry aren’t among the best players in the world (with Henry making a pretty convincing case for being the best player in the world this past season). I had heard rumors about the Ribery guy, but didn’t really just how impressive he was. And I certainly didn’t expect Willy Sagnol to play like such a superhero. (Seriously, why aren’t more people talking about Sagnol? He owned, in succession, Roberto Carlos and Cristiano Ronaldo? What does he have to do?) Sure, Barthez/ Balles has been his usual erratic self (and probably has one more major blunder in him), but he’s gotten away with it so far.
Which all leads up to Zizou. This game tomorrow (as the media never tire of reminding us) is likely his last. While he probably isn’t the Zizou of 1998 (or even 2002), he’s still Zizou. The technical ability (fancy Euro term for his amazing ball skills) is completely ridiculous. And with Ribery out there, he doesn’t have to worry about running end to end. He can just quarterback the France offense from 30 yards out and do little tricks to make sure the ball finds its way to the right people. There were rumors that the French teams in 2002 and 2004 suffered from identity crises (other folks thought it was their time to be the big dog). Not so this time. Everyone’s deferring to Zidane, and it seems to be working perfectly. Most importantly, Zizou seems pretty intent on winning this tournament, which, if past data means anything, suggests that Italy will have their hands full tomorrow.