Unlike two years ago, when the entire provisional squad participated in a training camp and a set of friendlies before Euro 2008, this time Domenech will take along only his 23 players plus one or two alternates (in care there are injuries). This is to spare the feelings of those who will not be going to South Africa, and at least this way they can avoid a heart breaking departure.
The remaining players will be taking part in a training camp at Tignes on May 18th. They will play a friendly against Costa Rica on May 26th, followed by another training camp, which will then be capped off by the second and final friendly against Tunisia on May 30th. At that point, the alternate will be packing his bags to go home while everyone else heads south.
So let’s talk shop. As with anything involving Domenech, his roster was not without controversy. While many of his choices were expected, some of his decisions came out of left field.
Here is the full list (the ones in bold are the players I suspect will be dropped):
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Mickael Landreau (Lille), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Rod Fanni (Rennes), William Gallas (Arsenal), Marc Planus (Bordeaux), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid), Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes) , Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon)
Forwards: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseille), Jimmy Briand (Rennes), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).
Of the four goalkeepers, one of them will not make the final cut. My guess is Mickael Landreau, who also didn’t make the shortlist for Euro 2008. Landreau used to be France’s #2 behind Gregory Coupet, but a poor season at PSG and the rise of young hotshots like Hugo Llori and Steve Mandanda ended Landreau’s NT career before it ever really began. Cedric Carrasso is also fairly young and has had a tremendous season with Bordeaux, so it’s hard to argue against him being the third choice.
Among the defenders, William Gallas has been included despite the fact that he's still injured. Domenech is hoping that Gallas shakes off his injury before the training camp ends, but if he doesn’t, he will be dropped in favor of an alternate, who will most likely be Adil Rami. I do expect to see Anthony Reveillere and Marc Planus dropped. Both have had excellent seasons with their clubs, but Planus has no international experience while there are younger players in Reveillere’s position.
In midfield, there are no real surprises except for the inclusion of Yann M’Vila . He’s quite young but an obvious talent, and though it’s unlikely he’ll be heading to South Africa this summer, Domenech may have included M’Vila simply to whet his appetite.
Up front is where it gets interesting. Djibril Cisse has seemingly returned to Domenech’s attention after a terrific season with Panathinaikos. While it may only be the Greek league, it’s hard to ignore Cisse’s consistent scoring, which is something of a rarity for French strikers these days. Hatem Ben Arfa also gets the nod, despite lukewarm performances in recent weeks. Though he blows hot and cold, he’s had an altogether solid season and can turn in absolutely dazzling performances – when he puts his mind to it, that is. Of the attackers, Jimmy Briand and Mathieu Valbuena are the most likely candidates to be dropped. Briand simply isn’t as good as the others while Valbuena cannot offer more than what Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, and even Sidney Govou already bring to the table.
What's even more interesting is the players who aren't on the list. The biggest exclusion is that of Karim Benzema, who is one of France’s best strikers and is the often hailed as the future of Les Bleus. But his year at Real Madrid has been poor, and his attitude during NT training camps has been downright sulky at times. Same goes for Samir Nasri, who has only recently been shining at Arsenal. On the bright side, both players are young and have at least another two World Cups to look forward to.
Patrick Vieira on the other hand can now consider himself officially retired from international football. No one outside of England expected him to make the squad, so his exclusion is not a surprise per se, but Vieira’s unhappiness stems from the fact that Domenech didn’t tell him personally. Instead, Vieira found out on the news along with the rest of the world.
Julien Escude and Jean-Alain Boumsong may feel slightly shortchanged, as they had solid seasons with their clubs and are frequent international call ups. I had expected at least one of the two to make the WC roster as both are central defenders, but it looks like Domenech will rely on Eric Abidal to pair with Gallas (or Rami), with Sebastien Squillaci as backup. Aly Cissokho may also feel put out, especially because based on his talent and form, no one would have been surprised if he had made the provisional squad. But the players ahead of him in his position have more experience, and like Benzema, Cissokho is young and will undoubtedly feature in a future World Cup.
All things considered, it’s a fairly good list. While I would have preferred to see Benzema on the roster, I can’t really argue with any of the other choices, assuming the names I bolded end up getting dropped. France’s greatest blessing has always been the amount of talented players they have – besides Brazil and perhaps Argentina, I can’t think of another nation that has so many deserving players that don’t even get the occasional call up. But on occasion, France's wealth of talent can also be a curse, because when things go wrong (and with Domenech at the helm, it's likely), it's all too easy to say in hindsight that another player would have been more useful to the team.
What do you guys think? Who do you think Domenech will drop, and who else do you think he should have included?