On April 1 this year, coach Raymond Domenech said France would skip Euro 2008 to concentrate on preparing for the 2010 World Cup.
It was, of course, an April Fool’s joke, but Domenech might be thinking now it would not have been such a bad idea.
“I regret not to have stuck to my initial plan which was to work on the 2010 project,” Domenech told reporters before leaving France’s Swiss base near Vevey to face an uncertain future.
“This tournament should have been a step towards the World Cup and not a goal as such,” he added.
A mix of rusty warriors and untested youngsters proved a losing formula and France went home with their heads down, bottom of their group with just a point and one goal from three dismal performances.
France, who struggled to make it to this tournament, losing twice to Scotland in their group, will meet Austria, the Faroe Islands, Lithuania, Romania and Serbia in their qualifying campaign for the next World Cup finals in South Africa.
Domenech, who said his personal fate was not important, will find out after a French Football Federation (FFF) meeting on July 3 whether he remains in charge.
DIDIER DESCHAMPS, France’s 1998 World Cup-winning captain, is the favourite to take over if Domenech were to be axed, with Laurent Blanc, Jean Tigana and Gerard Houllier also possible candidates.
Whoever guides France next faces a tough task.
While their stalwarts looked their age at Euro 2008 or, like captain Patrick Vieira who failed to shake off a thigh injury, did not play at all, their newcomers such as 20-year-old striker Karim Benzema failed to live up to high expectations.
Domenech, who was hoping his most experienced players would help the younger ones adapt, admitted it had not worked out and suggested the atmosphere in the team had not been that great.
“You need time to build a team in which you have people with contrasting mentalities and life-styles,” he said. “Some understood what we were trying to do but others didn’t and never will. That’s life.”
An era has ended, defender Lilian Thuram and midfielder Claude Makelele having announced their international retirements after the fiasco while others such as goalkeeper Gregory Coupet are likely to follow suit.
A new generation will now take over and Franck Ribery, who inherited Zinedine Zidane’s talismanic role and is 25, could be at the peak of his powers around 2010 while Benzema might have become by then the truly great player many see him to be.
There is plenty of work to do but also room for hope for the France fans, aware that coming back from the dead has always been a great French specialty.