- 17 Jun 08, 09:20 AM
Quelle surprise, the French are getting paranoid! Their top sports paper, L'Equipe, is full of conspiracy theories that the Dutch will not exactly be busting a gut to beat Romania on Tuesday and that, as a consequence, both France and Italy will be out.
Well, whose fault is that? Frankly, I think the French were fortunate that Romania took such a negative approach when they met each other in Zurich.
When the Romanians came to play against Italy in the Letzigrund Stadium, they opened up and looked a good side. Had they attacked the French as they did Italy, they could well have beaten them.
What Romania didn't realise, and they are not alone, is just how far the French have fallen.
Lilian Thuram, who looks every one of his 36 years, is surely intending to retire from the international fray after Euro 2008, but Raymond Domenech may have to bring that decision forward.
Claude Makelele, too, has found that age has left him looking ponderous in comparison to the darting Dutch.
Which means all of France is hoping Patrick Vieira can return from injury to invigorate their predictable approach play. However, Vieira is 32 and not match-fit. Surely Portsmouth's Diarra is worthy of some playing time?
The last remnants of that wonderful World Cup-winning side of 10 years ago are clinging on for dear life - and it's sad to see. Of course, there is still enough talent to hold off the inevitable for a game or two.
Thierry Henry's goal against the Dutch was the slightest and deftest of touches of a master at work while Franck Ribery can still be a big threat if he begins to show his Bayern Munich form.
What of the others? Well, insouciance is a word with a French root and Nicolas Anelka is taking it to extremes. In the language of football, it means playing like you couldn't give a monkey's.
As for Florent Malouda, he is not the first player to discover that a year at Chelsea may do wonders for the bank balance but nothing for your reputation.
Karim Benzema looked startled to be surrounded by such incompetence against Romania whilst Arsenal target Samir Nasri did not get enough time to make in impression.
Perhaps the most damning thing to say about the French squad is that Jean-Alain Boumsong is in it.
If Domenech is prepared to be bold, they may yet save themselves. If he can introduce some youth and energy, some joie de vivre; then an equally ageing Italian side might flounder.
Of course, Romania may make it all an irrelevance by beating the Dutch. But if they do, the French should praise Victor Piturca's side and not look for excuses in the Dutch line-up.
After all, even if Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Rafael Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder do not start, it's likely that Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will. I'm not sure the French would fancy playing that Dutch team either.
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