France begin their quest to wipe away the pain of an embarrassing showing at the World Cup in 2010 when they begin their campaign in Brazil against Honduras on Sunday.
Winners in 1998, Les Bleus nearly suffered another disastrous exit in their playoff against Ukraine to just qualify as they had to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit before advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
However, that comeback has marked a turning point in Didier Deschamps’ time in charge that has led to wave of optimism surrounding the country’s batch of young stars and that has been stoked by 4-0 and 8-0 thrashings of Norway and Jamaica respectively in pre-tournament friendlies.
“We’ve gone through a rebuilding phase because people still associate the team with Knysna in South Africa (when the players went on strike) and the way in which we exited the tournament,” striker Olivier Giroud told Fifa.com. “The French public hasn’t forgotten what happened and we’re going to show them that we can keep our flag flying high during the World Cup.”
“The majority of players weren’t in that squad, and we’d rather look to the future rather than the past. What we’ve achieved over the past few months has been extremely encouraging. There’s been a groundswell of support for our team, which has obviously stemmed from our run of good results and our victory over Ukraine.”
Giroud will battle with Antoine Griezmann for a place in Deschamps’ starting line-up in place of Franck Ribery, who was ruled out of the tournament by an ongoing back injury.
“Franck has had back problems for weeks, and hadn’t trained very much with us. We have to leave all that to one side; it’s already been difficult enough for him. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be with us, but we’ll do our best to ensure that he’s proud of our performances.”
Honduras are expected to provide a very physical first test for Deschamps’ men.