PORTO ALEGRE (Brazil): 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 today.
Winners in 1998, Les Bleus nearly suffered another disastrous exit in their playoff against Ukraine just to 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 said.
“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 qualification versus 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. It wasn’t a huge surprise,” added Giroud.
“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.”
Griezmann has followed up an impressive season with Real Sociedad in La Liga with three goals in four appearances since making his debut for the senior French side in March.
However, Giroud, who scored 22 goals for Arsenal this season, believes he deserves to start as the central striker with Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema occupying Ribery’s normal role on the left.
“I am happy with how I played in the warm up games...I hope to get a lot of playing time.”
Honduras are expected to provide a very physical first test for Deschamps’ men.
The Central Americans were reduced to 10 men in a 0-0 draw in a friendly against England in their final warm-up game last weekend in a match in which Deschamps commented the Hondurans showed “aptitude of physical combat.”
However, forward Jerry Bengston believes they are capable of not just ruffling some French feathers but actually winning the game.
“We are very positive. Obviously we can beat France, this is football and anything can happen, but we are conscious that we will have to play a very good match,” said the 27-year-old.
“We need to concentrate for the 90 minutes and take any chances that come our way.” AFP