Friday, February 26, 2010

Domenech announces his 23 for the Spain game...Boumsong???

 I am remiss to have not written about the list of the 23 French players for the France v Spain match next week I was even in Paris when Domenech had his press conference (sorry for the unabashed gloating). So here is the list:

Keepers - Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Cédric Carrasso
Defenders - Patrice Evra, Bakary Sagna, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Mickaël Ciani, Aly Cissokho, Rod Fanni, Julien Escudé, Adil Rami
Midfielders - Lassana Diarra, Jérémy Toulalan, Moussa Sissoko, Benoît Cheyrou, Franck Ribéry, Florent Malouda, Yoann Gourcuff
Strikers - Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Hatem Ben Arfa, Louis Saha, Sidney Govou, Loïc Rémy

The Good:
  • Calling up the Bordeaux man Ciani and Rami is a good move for Domenech.  The central defender has been a revelation this season with Bordeaux and just this past week scored the winning goal in the Champions League. With injuries abound at central defense, Domenech was smart to leverage this opportunity to take a look at Ciani. Rami had been called up earlier but had not seen the pitch. The Lille defender has a good chance of being one of France's central backs very soon. He is one of the reasons Lille is having a very good domestic season, he has provided stability for the Lille back 4.
  • The Kaiser Ribery is back in the fold. Granted he has not come back to 100% health, still is being used sparingly with Bayern. But it will be good for Les Bleus to have him back at Clairfontaine. Les Bleus will go only as far as their talisman offensive player can take them in South Africa. We need to remember that France played much of their last World Cup qualifiers without the kaiser. 
  • Getting back Saha into the fold is very good, he deserves the call up for what he has been doing with Everton. I think he should be seen as a real option to head to South Africa.
  • The return of Ben Afra. The once proud Prince of French football had fallen out of sorts for both club and country recently. The maddeningly talented, but mercurial player, would drive many coaches, teammates and fans crazy. He had a world of talent in his boots, but his mental state did not guarantee 100% efforts all the time. Thankfully, at least for now, he seems to have found the desire and motivation to look to live up to his ability. Let us hope this continues, if it does, it gives Les Bleus a very intriguing offensive weapon to leverage. A very nice example of his talent from a recent Europa League game:

The Bad:
  • Um okay...Boumsong....and while I am at why not throw in Gouvou as well. Why oh why are these Lyon players always taken by Domenech. I can sort of see Gouvou, he has been playing well as of late especially in the Champions League against Real Madrid, but I would have rather seen Nasri. But Boumsong???? Really? What about Mexes? What about Sakho from PSG? Is Boumsong really an option to go to South Africa? Based on a rumor circulating France - Domenech has gentleman's agreement that he will get a job at Lyon after his France tenure is over, so to make Aulus happy he is picking many of the OL players....hmmmm.
The Ugly:
  • Boumsong Boumsong Boumsong....see above.
  • Not including Cisse, the former Liverpool, OM, Sunderland, Auxerre man leads the Greek league in goals, had a double against Roma in the Europa League.  His performance this season clearly should place him on the short list for Domenech's striker selection. Cisse should have been given a shot - at least over Gouvou.
  • What appears to be the end of the road for Vieira as an international player. I think that Domenech needs to just put an end to this charade and say that Vieira has had a stellar career for France but it is time to hang up the boots. Clearly Pat will not get enough game time between now and the May time frame for the World Cup list to be put why keep pretending that he has a chance to go to the World Cup? We all know that he has become injury prone at this stage of his career and for the role he plays it is imperative for him to be as close to 100% healthy otherwise he becomes a liability - see the Euro 2008!
  • And what about Mexes? Boumsong over Mexes? I realize the golden boy is no longer a clear cut starter at AS Roma, but to me he is still head and shoulders above his former Auxerre teammate. I am not sure what Domenech has against Mexes, but the golden boy deserves to be back in the fold. Hopefully with a new manager for France, Mexes will get his chance to get back into the France jersey.
The game will be telling for France, Spain is a very big fish to take on right now. It will be interesting to see how Domenech lines up his side as well as who he uses through out the match. What will he do on the left - Henry or Ribery? Who will line up on the right flank? Who will be the main striker? What about the central defensive pairing? I am sure Domenech will give us a glimpse during his training sessions...we shall see.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Blanc backing down from Les Bleus?

    As his club scored a tough fought 1-0 Champions League victory away in Greece, the mystery over whether or not Laurent Blanc will take over the reigns of the French national team post World Cup continue to get complicated. With some of his mentors chiming in and suggesting he stays at the club level for the near term as well as the man himself throwing some confusion into the process, will Laurent Blanc be deemed the next France manager?  As I have stated in the past I think the job should go to the current Marseilles manager - Didier Deschamps. To me he is a little bit more seasoned than his former France teammate.

    Blanc is the latest "hot" manager available so of course he gets the most interest from the talking  heads and fans. However I agree with with Guy Roux and SAF said - Blanc needs more time at the club level, taking over the national team is a very important endeavor and not one for the faint of heart. I think that Blanc would be a good manager for France, but in 5 years he would be better. Then again almost anyone would be better than what is in place today.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    France v Spain - Right around the corner who will be on the list?

    Domenech will announce his squad this week, on Thursday, for the upcoming France v Spain which will be a crucial match for Les Bleus. Listening to some of the French talking heads this morning, they made a great point that anyone that hopes to go far, see win the World Cup, will have to go through the defending European Champions. Add into the equation the bad taste left from the France v Ireland game, France have a mountain of pressure to show something during the match.

    However France will have some problems heading into the match, due to injuries - Gallas out, Abidal out, Henry playing very little, Gignac out, Diaby hurt and the rest of the matches for the week are not done yet! Of course there are some players that should be seen back in Blue - Ribery and Nasri - two in particular. So what should Domenech do? Well other than resign...

    Get Mexes back into the squad. The Roma defender has really not done anything to deserve being ignored. I am still not sure Escude is the answer in the back, this is a good chance to bring back the golden boy and see what he can do. I would consider a Squillaci - Mexes central back pairing, with Sagna and Evra on the wings. In the midfield, if Domenech decides and why would he change, go with 2 holding midfielders - stay with Toulalan and LDiarra.

    Where it becomes interesting is offensively. Ribery is back, at least he has played some regular football with Bayern Munich - he should find he place back on the left with Gourcuff in the middle and .... Nasri on the right. I would put Henry or Anelka up front.

    I would also look to call up Saha and Cisse....both former France strikers are having solid seasons for their respective clubs. At this moment I would almost take one of these players over a Benzema for the national team...I realize that is blasphemy, but look at the results - Saha is the 5th scorer in England with 13, Cisse is leading the Greek league with 18 goals and Benzema is tied for 13th in Spain with 7 goals (Henry only has 3!). Based on current form, Saha and Cisse deserve to be back in the discussion for the World Cup.

    Finally what about Pat I have stated before I think his international career is unfortunately over, the fact he is suspended for the next 3 matches with Manchester City continue to diminish his chances to wear the France kit in anything other than a jubilee to celebrate his career for Les Bleus. Will Domenech surprise us with a player none of us are thinking of? Maybe. Could he call up Gameiro, Ait-Fana, Tremoulinas or a Matuidi? Why not, take a look at one of the young players that might sneak into the World Cup side. We will know all this Thursday.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    France knows their road to Euro 2012

    The calendar is out for Les Bleus:

    FRANCE - Belarus
    Bosnie - FRANCE
    FRANCE - Roumanie
    FRANCE - Luxembourg
    Luxembourg - FRANCE
    Belarus - FRANCE
    Albanie - FRANCE
    Roumanie - FRANCE
    FRANCE - Albanie
    FRANCE - Bosnie

    France start out with a side they should defeat in Belarus, however then have to face the two sides that will most likely challenge Les Bleus - Bosnia and Romania. They then will get some nations they should feast on - Albania and Luxembourg, and finishing with Bosnia and Romania is a blessing in disguise. They may already be qualified and can take these games easy or if they are chasing they will most likely be looking up at one or these sides and being able to face them head to head gives the best chance to move ahead of them in the standings.

    PSG get the small victory

    Ouf, PSG final secured its first win of 2010...with a "small" victory versus Toulouse after a gift penalty kick. While they secured the essential, there is much to be worried about heading into the derby match next Sunday against OM. I am not as positive as the PSG manager Kombouare was post match!

    The PSG defense did not look sure of itself, fortunately the posts were the best defender PSG had on the pitch, twice stopping strikes from Capoue in he second half. In addition, the first half penalty kick was dubious at best. Luyindula being "pulled" down was not 100% clear it was not a slight dive by the PSG midfielder. The red card that followed was also very severe for the TFC.

    Guily did show some flashes but without Sessegnon and Sakho for this weekend's match versus Marseilles, this victory may remain the only one PSG has enjoyed in 2010. PSG are dropping closer to the drop zone than to the Champions League, with most of their players being healthy again they need to start thinking about making a run of successive positive results otherwise this will once again be a lost season.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Arsenal in danger

    Ouch, a 2-1 loss to Porto does not bode well for the Gunners. A huge error from their Polish goalkeeper allowing the Portuguese to grab a 1-0 lead. Arsenal were able to pull back a goal to tie the score only to give up a late goal to head back for the return leg down 2-1. Granted Arsenal have the away goal, but still have a goal to make up.

    Arsenal can come back on the score - however with all their injuries the task will only complicate itself. Once again this a reflection of Arsenal's lack of depth. Wenger has the young talent, but does not have the depth you need to navigate the number of tournaments a squad like Arsenal expects to compete in every year.

    I fear that this might be once again a silverware free season...

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Dutch Master to lead the Turks

    Scratch Hiddink off your list of potential managers to replace Rafa at Liverpool. It was announced that the Dutch Master will be heading to the Bosphorus to manage Turkey. Based on his past successes - most notably taking the South Koreans to an improbable 4th place finish in the 2002 World Cup (a feat had achieved 4 years earlier with Holland in the 1998 World Cup). He again surprised many by getting the Socceroos into the knock out stages of the 2006 edition, many would argue he was unlucky to not go farther after a very questionable referee decision gifted the Italian Diving Team a injury time penalty kick.

    Hiddink will now take over his 5th national side - he is leaving the Russian federation after not qualifying for the World Cup but having had a very strong European Championship. Clearly based on his track record much can be expected from the Turks. This is a side that can be world beaters at times and other times fail miserably to even qualify for major tournaments. Turkey has a strong base of players and is continuing to build and taking advantage of FIFA rules by pulling in players born outside of Turkey to Turkish parents.

    If the Turks from the Euros can show up, coupled with Hiddink's managerial ability they will have a legitimate chance to go deep in the next European Championships and beyond.

    Lyon in great position heading back to Madrid

    What a start to the knock out stage of the Champions League - Lyon score a famous 1-0 victory versus Real Madrid. Lyon played a perfect game, controlling Kaka and Ronaldo and capitalizing on the counter. Makoun scored a screamer to give the French club the precious goal for a victory.

    Delgado was a handful for Real and was unfortunate to not get his own goal (hitting the post on one occasion and missing his angled shot on another). Lloris also played a huge role in keeping the Lyon club in the game - making a huge save on Ronaldo.

    Before we all get excited about the potential upset, let us not forget that there are still 90 minutes of footie to be the Santiago Bernabeu. Granted Real will be without Alonso and Marcelo due to card violations, however it will be no small task for Lyon. They will need to play a very similar style as they did today - defend and look to counter. If Lyon can score an early goal it will force Real to score 3 goals...due to the away goal rule. However if Lyon look to hold their 1-0 lead I fear they might suffer the same result as in the San Siro from a few years ago, where they had a lead late in the match only to see Milan score 2 late goals to go through. Lyon need to realize they played a perfect game...but only have a 1 goal to show for it. Real Madrid will realize they played poorly and were fortunate to only be down by a goal and heading home.

    It should be a very interesting return leg.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Champions League knock out stage - starting up

    So the jam packed footie season gets more complicated for Europe's top teams as the Champion League knock out rounds get going this week. Rather than go through the draw again - my post with my predictions.

    Clearly the matches that we will all be draw to - Beckham and Milan heading to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and the Special One gets his old charges - Chelsea. The team with the worst break is Lyon who led a difficult group only to see them fall to second place on the last day of the stage and now have to face Real Madrid. Tough.

    Enjoy the Champions League!

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Cantona video

    I have never made my disdain for Manchester United a secret, however I have always had respect for a particular Frenchman - Cantona. I realize he was mercurial and a major head case, some might say he was overrated. However, any player that gets the Marseillaise sung by the fans in Old Trafford is someone special. I just wished he had been able to translate his success at Manchester United to Les Bleus - with Ginola, Papin et al it is a shame that France were not able to do more on the international scene.

    A great video from my friend Brett -

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Euro 2012 - the qualifiers

    The groups for the qualifiers for Euro 2012 were announced this week, I discussed France's group in yesterday's blog post so today let us take a quick look at all the groups (Ukraine and Poland are automatic qualifiers as the co-hosts):

    UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying draw

    Group A
    Group B
    Republic of Ireland
    FYR Macedonia
    Group C
    Northern Ireland
    Faroe Islands
    Group D
    Group E
    San Marino
    Group F
    Group G
    Group H
    Group I
    Czech Republic
    Bye to finals (hosts)

    Group A - Germany are the favorites but not an easy group with Turkey and an up and coming Belgium. Turkey will be the wild card, sometimes that nation is a world beater - see their deep run at the 2002 World Cup and their showing at the last Euros, and sometimes they can lay an egg. Belgium has some young talent in the ranks and could surprise. But can you ever bet against the Germans...alas no. Germany qualify.

    Group B - This group is wide open. Ireland will be looking to get into the Euros after missing out on South Africa. Russia will be tough, but if Hiddink is no longer in charge will they have the same mojo? Slovakia surprised everyone by getting to South Africa. I think Ireland use their disappointment in missing out on South Africa to rally and get into the Euros. Ireland qualify.

    Group C - Serbia surprised many by taking their group and getting to South Africa, however they have Italy this time and not a Domenech led France. The one possibility is that Italy will be going through a transition with the likes of Pirlo, Gattuso, Toni, Cannavaro to name a few that will most likely be out of the international side. However this is Italy, I do not think Serbia has another upset in its boots - Italy qualify.

    Group D - Discussed in an earlier post - France qualify.

    Group E - Sweden and Finland should have an interesting Scandinavian derby...Hungary surprised many by showing some fight during the World Cup qualifiers. However Holland is too strong, they should have a good World Cup run this summer to build on. Oranje qualify.

    Group F - Croatia were the darlings of the last Euro having knocked out England in qualifying. The three lions returned the favor during World Cup qualifiers. Croatia should see themselves as favorites but one cannot count out the 2004 Euro champions Greece - question will be can the Greeks adapt to what is likely a new manager. Israel is another interesting side with some talent, they have always proven dangerous in qualifiers but can never get over the hump. Could this be the year? I think Croatia is a team in flux and Greece will have some issues without Otto at the helm...Israel pulls off the upset and qualifies.

    Group G - Wales is talking about pulling off the upset and knocking off not sure that will happen. Bulgaria will be weakened with its best player - Berbatov - closer to retirement than to his prime. Switzerland might pose a threat but England has too much talent. Question remains will Capello still be at the helm? Or will he be back in club football? If there is a game of musical chairs in the English FA for the managers role it might set back the 3 Lions, even so, this group is fairly weak - England qualify.

    Group H - A strong group with the Danes, Norwegians and Portuguese all with a legitimate hope of going through. The question will be which Denmark and Portugal will show up? This group will be nip and tuck until late but the Portuguese will find a way - Portugal qualify.

    Group I - The Czech Republic are no longer the side they once were since the retirement of Nedved et al. They are still talented and missing out on the World Cup should give them added incentive to get back to the big stage. Unfortunately they have Spain in their group...could it be World Cup Champion Spain? Spain is head and shoulders above the rest of the sides in this group and should easily coast to qualification. Spain qualify.

    The final direct spot will go to the runner up with the best record - I am going to say that will be Croatia. After which there will be the other 8 runner ups in a play off.

    Which will be -

    Should make for an interesting tournament. As always there is no rest in international footie!

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    Euro qualifying groups - Les Bleus facing Eastern Bloc

    So the qualifying groups for the Euro in Ukraine/Poland have been announced and Les Bleus will face a very Eastern Bloc flavor of a group -

    Groupe D :


    Clearly the teams to fear are Bosnia and Romania. France faced the Romanians during the last World Cup qualifying campaign earning two draws...the away match to Romania saw France go down 2-0 very early on only to see Gourcuff and Ribery rally the team back to a draw.

    The return leg was marked by a horrible own goal from Escude, and an overall poor match by the Sevilla man to allow a clearly dominated Romania escape Paris with a point. Romania will pose a challenge but Les Bleus should fare better this time around, plus Romania will most likely be without their best player - Mutu - who once again faces a length suspension due to illegal substance abuse. Bosnia will also pose a threat. They missed out on the World Cup, although barely, losing to favorite Portugal in the play off round. Bosnia had hit a few posts late in their first match away to Portugal which could have seen a very different final result. Bosnia will be a dangerous team - with the likes of Dzeko, Pjanic and Misimovic. France have historically struggled with Eastern Bloc teams so this will be a test for Les Bleus.

    The other nations should not challenge but will also not be push overs - see Luxembourg's 2-1 victory versus World Cup bound Switzerland this year (that match was in Zurich as well)!

    France are the favorites to emerge from this group, however what will be crucial is how quickly the new France manager (rumored to be Laurent Blanc) will be to integrate a new generation of players. With the likes of Henry, Anelka and Gallas to name a few that are potential retirees from the national side, the new manager will have to determine who will take leadership of the squad as well as the formation and tactics for the squad.

    The new manager will not have the luxury of time, the difficult task of international football is that there is no rebuilding for nations such as France. Les Bleus have the talent, hopefully the new manager will have the ability to create the proper chemistry and tactics quickly.

    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    Laurent Blanc set to manage France...a few months too late?

    According to sources, Laurent Blanc has already agreed in principal to take over the reigns of Les Bleus after the World Cup - Domenech's contract expires...thankfully. Good news? Time will tell. I think that the OM manager - Deschamps would still be my choice. Not that I think that the former France central defender would be a poor choice. I recognize that Blanc has turned Bordeaux back into a powerful side, winning the Ligue 1 title last season, getting out to a comfortable lead in this year's competition and finishing top of a difficult Champions League group. However I think that Deschamps still has a slight edge in terms of experience and having lived through the highs and lows of management - taking over Juventus in Serie B was not an enviable task.

    While the FFF could not make a bad decision selecting either man, I wish they could make the change today and not in July.